Do you know when it’s time to let go?

According to my colleague Jay Cross, Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo originated the 70:20:10 framework at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. Their 1996 book, The Career Architect, stated that lessons learned by successful managers came roughly:

  • 70% from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving
  • 20% from feedback, and working with and observing role models
  • 10% from courses and reading

Research also shows that most workplace learning is informal. But when do you move from formal instruction to informal learning? An interesting article on management coaching  uses the metaphor of riding a bike. When is it time for the parent to let go of the bicycle and let the child ride alone?

Jesse Lyn Stoner says:

How do you recognize that moment – that it is time to let go? I consider these four questions:

Do they have the skills and knowledge they need?
Have they demonstrated their ability to do this in other settings or similar ways?
Do they want to do it?
Do they have the resources they need to do the job?

These are the types of questions that training departments and HR professionals should be asking. When is it time to let go? Are they looking for indicators, or are they just wed to their preferred methods of control. I think it’s a great question to ask: When do you let your employees ride on their own? If there is no clear answer, perhaps most workers are still encumbered with training wheels.

If the organization has no methods in place to mark the time that employees can ride on their own, then they may be treating their workforce like children. At what point can someone make decisions to spend a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars to address an issue that is important to get work done? With metaphorical training wheels, nobody falls, but the riders never achieve full speed either. Are these the kinds of employees you want? Give them a chance to really ride.

[This post was written after a great 70 KM bike ride on a fall day in the middle of the week]

4 Responses to “Do you know when it’s time to let go?”

  1. jay cross

    It’s a great question. Unfortunately, people in many organizations go directly from learning in a protected area with training wheels to riding in the helter-skelter of heavy traffic.

    If they’re going to graduate to working smarter, they need bike paths, reflective clothing at night, and maps. Most important, the drivers around them need to respect the cyclists rights and not run them down because they’re doing things differently. The organization’s learning ecosystem must accommodate the bikers, the drivers, and the pedestrians, too.

  2. Juan Domingo Farnós

    Lo que dice Jay Cross sobre el Ecosistema de aprendizaje, es lo que en la cultura latina llamamos, INCLUSIVIDAD, es decir, nunca el empleado o el aprendiz deben adaptarse al lugar de estudio o de trabajo (eso es integración) sino al revés, para que las cosas funcionen han de ser las organizaciones las que deben adaptarse a los usuarios, ya que de esta manera conseguirán que estén más a gusto con lo que su rendimiento será mucho mayor…..


  3. Helen Blunden

    Thanks for the reference to Jesse Lyn Stoner and the questions as to when learners should be ‘let go’. I’m working on a transformational change project in a company and although the workers will have new job role names, the majority of the new knowledge and skills that need to be taught is small (that is, they used to do ABC, in new role they’ll need to do ABC and D) and also those teams need to be cross specialised in ABC & D.

    I’m having a hard time trying to convince L&D management that we only concentrate on the D and put the trust in the learners (are SMEs in ABC) to learn, coach and share with each other. Instead, the solution that they propose I use is to put them all into a classroom to instruct them ABC and D.

    The four questions posed above are enough now to be able to go back and explain my argument that we need to trust that our teams will cross specialise and allow them the time, freedom and technologies to do so.

    I worked with a small team trialling this new approach (I begged to have a team which I could use as a pilot) and the results have been phenomenal. Not only have they bonded, they have come up with ideas of how to share what they know with each other; there’s a lot more self-directed learning; an equalisation of relationships across the team and an openness I hadn’t seen before – and it’s a real pleasure working with them as I’m learning from them too.

    Thanks Andrew for the video too – yes, if only we could get that same reaction from our learners. I’m trying to figure out now how I can get this pilot team to be the ‘voice’ to the rest of the department to inspire a collaborative approach to learning to get L&D to change their mind – as someone from within their ranks (ie me) doesn’t have the influence unfortunately.


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