Are you a 70-20-10 Development Leader ?

boatA new development model?

70:20:10 is a framework for development, developed in 2002 by Charles Jennings. He is a global and creative expert on development solutions. The basis of this model is research that covers 5 decades.  It’s a strategic model for learning and development. The basis of the model is that to develop, people need to be (1) aware of a current or future need and (2) feel motivated to do something about that need. Awareness comes from experience. It can come from feedback, mistakes, watching other people’s reactions, failing, feeling not being up to a task. Experience is the single most important source for development.
According to the model, development comes

  • 70% from experience: on-the-job,  tasks and problem, tough challenges.
  • 20% from feedback and coaching: social, informal learning, feedback from people (often the manager).
  • 10% from formal learning: courses, reading.


The 70:20:10 Learning Pyramid

It’s not about the exact numbers.  The numbers can vary depending on the company or the industry. It’s about the idea. This model of development goes beyond the classroom and formal training. It promotes the workplace as a place of development. That is extremely important.

Why now ?

The idea behind 70:20:10 are not new. So why is the model relevant today? Organizations understand that formal training alone won’t make the difference. To understand the limitations of the 10%’ is one thing. Implementing a development strategy with the 70% and 20% is another. This model offers a truly integrated and holistic approach for development. And as organisations are facing new challenges, they need to leave old paradigms behind and adopt new ones. This requires new ways of development. This requires faster learning. This evolution requires radical changes in the development landscape. And that’s why the 70:20:10 offers an attractive framework for development
Just a few examples of how learning is evolving.
Learning Paradigms

The development leader

70:20:10 provides a framework to both HR and leaders. A leader might already use the 70:20:10. But there is always room for improvement. The framework can help leaders to adopt various development roles.

  1. Development through stretching assignments (70%)

    Experience is the true teacher. A leader can shape experience. 
People learn the job on the job.
    Increased business speed makes learning on the job vital. To stay ahead people need to learn faster, better and smarter. People learn to do a tough job by doing it. A Stretching assignment stimulates development. It pulls people out of their comfort zone. Small mistakes and errors must be tolerated, encouraged and celebrated !

    The only thing worse than learning from experience, is not learning from it.

    It’s all about matching the right experience to the employee’s development stage.
 If managers know the work environment and the employee they can match the (stretching) experience to the employee. Learning on the job is no longer exclusively individual. The best way to solve complex problems is to collaborate.
    Managers should stimulate peer-learning. Everyone faces the future together. Partnership and pro-active collaboration are key. to learn and to reach common goals faster.

  2. Development through Community Learning (20%)

    Learning is social. People learn with and through others. Effective leaders urge their people to “buddy up” on projects. They can motivate to shadow others and to learn from peers. They can foster collaboration beyond silos. They can stimulate learning through common goals. And last they can invite people to take part in professional networks inside or outside the organization.
    People tend to learn well in an environment that encourages conversation.
    Leaders play an important role in launching and nurturing professional communities. They can ask an engaged employee to even start a community. Learning communities are self steering. Members share professional interest and have similar responsibilities. Sharing best practices and ideas is crucial for development.

  3. Development through coaching (20%)

    Managers do not need to be the best teachers. They need to be great coaches.
    Coaching aims at providing many things like:

    • Individual attention and personal support
    • Improved communication among team members
    • Discovery and development of potential
    • Acceleration and maintenance of positive changes
    • Peek performance from people and teams

    Coaching is not always one-on-one. Managers can also coach teams. Team coaching is right when dealing with real organizational challenges; or when there are complex work issues . The leader should ask reflective questions and listen. He or she encourages the team to take action and to solve the problem.

  4. Development through overall Learning Improvement

    Formal learning (10%)  still has its merits. Leaders boost the impact of formal learning by doing one single thing: Setting clear expectations before the training takes place. This increases  the impact of training immensely. It also makes it much more sustainable. 
Clear expectations will make learning more meaningful for the employee. People are naturally motivated to do things they find meaningful. They will walk the “extra mile”. They will take pride in demonstrating what they’ve learned at work.


Leaders are responsible for developing their people. They spend time on this. They gain time through developing more delegation opportunities. Leaders prepare employees for the daily challenges. They make them more resilient for change. They give them the right opportunities to leave their comfort zone. This is priceless.
70:20:10 is a very interesting model. It brings development into the business and into the workplace. The line manager becomes the driver of people development. Development is no longer the domain of HR alone.
By working together, you can apply the 70. Or you can judge that the 20 is the right approach. Or you can apply both of them together. If you become aware of this, you can become even more pro-active in people development.
You could e.g. simply put the 70:20:10 pyramid on a wall in a meeting room. You can have regular conversations with your people about how to make it come “alive”. You could then coach your people. You can check if they need further 70% or 20% and how to organize this.
That would be truly sustainable. Much more than simply sending them to a training. So are you a 70:20:10 development leader?

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Meaningful Conversations as Key to Engagement and Retention


Once, I worked as an HR manager for a financial services firm. We introduced the idea of meaningful conversations. The aim was not to suggest that most of the conversations were meaningless, but to stress the importance of good, high quality conversations to high engagement.
We did not invent this concept on our “HR-cloud”. The idea was based on the analysis of many exit interviews. This analysis revealed very clearly that issues in the relations, conversations, coaching, chemistry and trust between boss and employee were the first reason why people become disengaged and leave.
Point taken, but how do you create or fix those things ?
You don’t.
Obviously you cannot create or fix a relationship of trust between people. They have to do that themselves. But you can create a context and culture that enables and stimulates all this.

Cultural Changes

There is another challenge: it takes time. Creating a (new) culture takes at least 5 years in my experience. It requires some tough changes in terms of leadership, behaviours, paradigms etc. As an HR professional you cannot just sit and wait for cultural changes. You need to take initiatives.
An excuse often heard is “Why bother introducing new tools and programs if our culture is not ready?” This may be a valid argument. However, it is also true that the creation of a new culture is never a linear process that needs to be completed first before anything else can be done. It is more a continuous learning and experimental process. This process can be stimulated by “adding” now and then something. Even when one may not yet be 100% ready yet. No guts, no glory…
That’s why we at that time decided to start building a “coaching culture”. The first concrete step in that direction was the launch of the meaningful conversation. We were fully aware that some line managers would probably react a bit confused or even resistant as if it were “again something new from HR”.

Meaningful conversations

After having read into the work of John Whitmore and having inquired with the internal stakeholders, we defined it like this:

Coaching is a meaningful conversation based on an attitude and a set of skills that help engaging with others, and help people develop the necessary competencies and confidence to improve their performance and achieve their potential.

We also made it part of a larger framework of possible situations where meaningful conversations are highly valuable.

Meaningful Conversations
Meaningful Conversations

At a first presentation, the management team showed appreciation for:

  • the bridge towards engagement and performance in the definition of coaching. Some managers perceived coaching to be very “soft” and not very performance related.
  • the suggestion, mentioned in the framework, that meaningful conversations are not only to be used towards employees and colleagues, but also towards clients and candidates ! One and the same concept for so many interlocutors !

Of course, it is not because this was positively welcomed, that a coaching culture emerges. Nor will one be overwhelmed by a sudden surge of meaningful conversations all over the place.


It is critical that organisational feedback flows from the CEO all the way to the employees on the field and back. Not only does this promote transparency and trust. It also fosters dialogue and conversation at the local level about how individuals and teams can improve employee engagement.
If the engagement and trust levels are low, I suggest getting outside help for holding these conversations. The most important outcome from these conversations is that the employees learn and dare to talk openly about whatever is on their mind. If the employees do not feel safe, then there is no point in having the conversations.
Average trust levels usually are the result of the fact that certain areas have less trust than others or that certain managers have earned less trust than others.

The key element of a meaningful conversation: Listening

I will not bore you with lists. Experience has learned me that a very important skill towards creating a safe environment and enabling meaningfulness is “listening”. Good, active listening. Nothing less and certainly nothing more, as an excellent, non judgmental start of a meaningful conversation.
How do you start with listening ?
Based on our own, already earlier used internal manuals, we created this overview. The first level is “attending” (listening for starters). The highest level is “Listening with intuition” (listening for the experienced).

Listening Skills
Listening Skills

Last but not least, we created workshops with very easy, accessible exercises. This helps to make all this come alive.
Did we create miracles ? Certainly not.
Did we create a new culture ? Not entirely.
Did we offer some first steps towards new, more appropriate behaviour ? We certainly did.
And this was also confirmed by an exit ratio slightly going down and by some managers actively daring to share their positive experiences with listening and with meaningful conversations!

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