Standing still in the age of crazy rapid change is akin to moving backward.
With the ubiquity of AI, our world is starting to change far beyond our wildest dreams. Keeping up with continuous learning and adapting isn't just optional; it's vital.
But how do we genuinely learn in our workplaces?
Enter the 70:20:10 model— a model that's not about numbers but rather a philosophy that recognizes learning as an ongoing process.
The 70:20:10 learning model uses a threefold approach to professional development:
1. 70% of Learning through On-the-Job Experience - This informal learning consists of engaging in challenging assignments, collaborating with others, employing trial-and-error methods, and seeking feedback from managers and colleagues. It recognizes that hands-on experience often teaches lessons that cannot be replicated in a course / class setting.
2. 20% of Learning through Developmental Relationships - Here we step into the importance of interpersonal relationships in learning, such as coaching, mentoring, and collaborative work. Specifically, this is the one-to-one dialogue between colleagues with the explicit aim of growing our knowledge and skills. It's here that conversational AI can also lend assistance to those who don't have access to formal developmental relationships.
3. 10% of Learning through Formal Education and Training - While the smallest proportion, this structured learning is vital, encompassing traditional classes, workshops, e-learning modules, and certifications.
The 70:20:10 model isn't just a set of percentages; it's a philosophy, a way of viewing the learning landscape. The model was conceptualized in the 1980s by Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership. Over the years, it has become a seminal framework for thinking about organizational learning and development.
The Impact on Organizational Learning
For managers, this means taking an active role in developing employees, beyond just signing them up for the occasional training course. It's about getting out onto the metaphorical field and building a strong playbook that uses experiential learning, mentoring relationships, stretch assignments, and other on-the-job developmental opportunities.
The model asks us to think differently about learning in the workplace.
How can managers create an environment where employees are motivated to seek out challenges, learn from mistakes, and regularly engage with colleagues to exchange knowledge and ideas?
How can everyday tasks be structured to promote growth?
When implemented effectively, 70:20:10 embeds learning into the flow of work - making development an ongoing adventure rather than a one-off event.
The ultimate goal is to build an organizational culture that truly values continual learning and provides resources and encouragement for employees at all levels to reach their potential. Managers can use 1:1s to have development-focused check-ins using the 70:20:10 lens:
- Discuss opportunities for on-the-job learning. What new skills is the employee looking to build? How can upcoming projects or tasks be shaped to achieve this?
- Talk about key interactions and relationships. Who is the employee learning from? Are there colleagues or mentors they should be connecting with more often?
- Review formal training and events. Are there courses, conferences, or workshops that would provide value? How will the employee apply what they learned?
- Check in on learning habits. Is the employee reflecting, asking questions, seeking feedback? Are they applying skills right away?
- Brainstorm ideas together. What challenges is the employee excited about? How can the manager provide support?
Regular 1:1s give managers a chance to coach in the moment on applying lessons from experiences, collaborations, and formal learning. It also shows employees that their growth is important and enables managers to provide guidance along the development journey.
Real-world Applications and Implications
As a global leader in consumer goods, Unilever has integrated the 70:20:10 learning model into its organizational structure to build continuous learning and adaptability. Emphasizing 70% on-the-job learning, employees are encouraged to innovate through real-world challenges and cross-functional collaboration. Developmental relationships are facilitated through 'Connect & Develop' mentorship programs, while 10% of learning is achieved through Unilever's Learning Academy, offering tailored courses and webinars. The company's digital adaptation, including expanding e-learning and virtual mentorship. Unilever's approach illustrates how the 70:20:10 model can easily be implemented to create a thriving culture of learning and growth.
The Challenge of Remote / Hybrid Work
Home offices have become the new normal, and team meetings occur across time zones, this wasn't a challenge in the 1980s when the model was created. The virtual environment is a new territory that we're exploring, filled with opportunities and obstacles. How do we translate that 70% of on-the-job learning when the job is performed in a virtual space? How do we foster those 20% developmental relationships without the serendipitous coffee breaks and hallway chats? And how do we make that 10% of formal training resonate when faces are behind screens?
- Emulating On-the-Job Experience: Translating hands-on experience becomes a creative challenge without a physical presence.
- Building Relationships Remotely: Creating meaningful connections, mentorship, and collaboration in a virtual space requires rethinking how we communicate and connect.
- Adapting Formal Training: Traditional training methods may be less engaging or effective in a virtual environment.
- Virtual Reality and Simulations: Consider using virtual reality or simulations to recreate the hands-on experience, turning remote work into an immersive learning adventure. The use of Oculus and Apple VisionPro may soon become a norm in business.
- Structured Virtual Mentorship and Collaboration Programs: Create platforms and structured programs that allow for virtual mentorship, team collaboration, and regular check-ins, fostering a culture where distance doesn't deter connection.
- Interactive and Engaging E-Learning Modules: Tailor the formal training to the virtual world by creating engaging e-learning modules that inspire rather than bore.
The rise of remote and hybrid work environments has required creativity and adaptability in learning and development, yet the core principles of the 70:20:10 model continue to apply. This approach remains highly relevant for distributed teams looking to nurture talent.
While formal training can now happen virtually, managers should think bigger about on-the-job learning through stretch assignments, projects, and job rotation - even from afar. Coaching, mentorship and peer learning are also adaptable online through collaboration tools, virtual coffee chats, and remote buddy systems.
The key is reimagining how connections are forged and knowledge is shared when working in a distributed environment. It requires intentionality in building human bonds and empathy across distances, aka TRUST. Frameworks like Scaling Up provide ways to embed the experiential, relationship-driven ethos of 70:20:10 into organizational systems and processes that work for today's workforce.
At its core, 70:20:10 recognizes learning as a human experience. It calls on managers to be creative facilitators of development, no matter where their teams are located. When anchored in genuinely human-centric experiences, 70:20:10 offers a model for learning that remains effective and energizing even in the virtual world.