70:20:10 – a useful model

“essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful” – George Box

The shift to the network era will not be easy for many people and most organizations. Common assumptions about how work gets done have to be discarded. Established ways of earning education credentials will be abandoned for more flexible and meaningful methods. Connections between disciplines and professions are growing, and artificial boundaries will continue to crack. Systemic changes to business and education will happen. There will be disruption on a societal level as we enter what is looking more and more like a post-job economy.

Learning is a critical part of working in a creative economy. Being able to continuously learn, and share that new knowledge, will be as important as showing up on time was in the industrial economy. Continuous learning will also disrupt established hierarchies as no longer will a management position imply greater knowledge or skills. Command and control will be replaced by influence and respect, in order to retain creative talent. Management in networks means influencing possibilities rather than striving for predictability. We will have to accept that no one has definitive answers anymore, but we can use the intelligence of our networks to make sense together.

Here is an excerpt from Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management (1911):

“It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.”

My Principles of Networked Management use a similar format to show how different the network era will be: It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more creative work can be fostered. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, especially management.

A new economy and new management principles require new models for getting work done. When I speak with progressive managers they intuitively understand the usefulness of the 70:20:10 model that is based on observations that generally, people learn 70% of what they need to do their job from experience. About 20% is learned from exposure to new tasks or environments. Only 10% is learned from formal education. While these numbers are not firm, they provide a rule of thumb, especially for resource allocation to support learning at work. Basically, more resources are needed to support learning while working, and fewer for formal courses. Convincing management of the usefulness of this model is not difficult.

However, the 70:20:10 model challenges the traditional domain of the Learning & Development (L&D) discipline. Many people in this field only work in formal education & training, most particularly designing courses. The reference model implicitly says, you are only being 10% effective in supporting learning at work. Of course many would react strongly against such a model.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”  — Upton Sinclair

It may be even worse. Training may be only 5% of organizational learning.  For a long time this small slice has been the primary focus of most L&D departments. The other 95% was just taken care of by the informal networks in the organization. On-job-training in some cases, or just observation and modelling in others. Then the Internet arrived. All those informal networks became hyper-connected. First with hyperlinks and later with ubiquitous mobile devices.

While the 10% (Education) is the domain of the L&D discipline, the other 90% (Exposure & Experience) could be supported by people from sales, marketing, communications or many other areas. It is not a foregone conclusion that these roles will be filled by trainers, and that is unsettling for ‘learning’ professionals who have most of their experience in designing formal training and education. In my experience, trainers are often let go during a transition to a more performance and social focused L&D function, replaced by people with other skills from varying backgrounds. The network era enterprise does not need ‘Training 2.0’ but rather a new organizational learning approach, where learning is integrated into the workflow. Many departments outside L&D are already staking this new ground and building their expertise. They understand the usefulness of the 70:20:10 model.

7 Responses to “70:20:10 – a useful model”

  1. Ger Driesen

    Very clear thinking Harold – I think it’s very important that you first take some distance and help the readers take a view on how work has changed and will be changing. That step is often forgotten keeping people trapped in the ‘learning box’ or learning bubble as Jos Arets and Charles Jennings explain in their new book. Some people only focus their effort ‘fighting’ 70:20:10 as concept because of lack of research supporting it’s value. Last weekend I thought: how much scientific evidence based on research is available that a hammer really works? If there is a lack of evidence I suggest we stop using them. Keep writing and sharing Harold


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