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It’s the Twenty, Stupid – the 70:20:10 Model of Organisational Learning

In this blog, Andrew Joly, LEO’s Director of Strategic Design, focuses on the role of working relationships within the 70:20:10 model of organisational learning.

70:20:10 has become a much-bandied-around term within large organisations – almost a mantra in some quarters. But people in L&D are becoming more and more conscious that the mere reciting of three numbers is not going to act as an ‘open sesame’ to a new world of learning. They need structure, they need practical guidance – and at a very fundamental level, they need to know where best to target their efforts to bring about real change in learning behaviours within their organisations.

A series of interesting conversations that I’ve been having recently with clients around our new ‘Learning Architectures’ concept have made me realise that it is the often overlooked ‘twenty’ within the 70:20:10 model – the area of communication and relationships – that is the key to changing behaviours regarding learning.

It is only by carefully considering and addressing learning cultures and attitudes to learning that we are going to bring about the changes we often talk about. Get the 10 right, get the 70 right, but nothing will happen unless you get the 20 right.

Here are five reasons why…

The 70:20:10 model refers to a researched observation into the way people learn in organisations

Where the 10% referred to represents formal learning – or ‘education’ as the original authors styled it – and the 70% stands for on-the-job experiences, the 20% stands for relationships, which includes learning from leaders and mentors, feedback and from observing and working with role models, conversations and dialogues around learning and skills. This can take the form of informal discussion and support, or targeted coaching, mentoring and performance management; any opportunities to share and reflect.

Specific activities included in the realm of the 20 might be:

  • Be coached
  • Train your successor
  • Rehearse scenarios
  • Act as a mentor
  • Give or receive ongoing feedback

So now that we know what we’re all talking about, why exactly is it that I believe this to be the most important area for development right now, if you want to make a significant change within your organisation?

Reason 1: It’s all about change

We’ve been delivering the ’10’, the formal learning, for a while, and frankly we should know by now what works and what doesn’t. In my opinion there are no excuses for poorly designed formal learning strategies if you have been careful to look at the results of what you’ve been doing over the last few years.

For most of our learners the ’70’ (informal learning, social learning, live learning tools, architectures and the rest) is a relatively new, if not totally new world. Look at the demographics in your organisation and you’ll find the younger workforce, more flexible in attitude and perhaps more used to taking on the type of challenges typical of the 70 category, more ready to steam ahead with new technologies and 70-style initiatives.

The majority of large organisations however, with their more age-diverse profile, are liable to struggle in making it work at scale.

But look at the results of organisations that have managed to leverage the new ways of learning and you’ll see how successful it can be. These organisations did more than just put the pieces in place and hope for the best. The massive changes required in the behaviour of individuals, from push to pull, from courses to resources, from the awayday to always-on performance support, started with changes in attitude.

And how is that going to happen? Well, its going to happen from the top down. Its going to happen in the culture of the organisation or team, and it’s going to happen through the most powerful change tool we have: relationship, conversation and human interaction.

Reason 2: It’s about hearts and minds

I was very struck by what Nick Shackleton-Jones said in his contribution to our Forum lunch recently about engaging learners. He demonstrated, with as much academic underpinning as you could want in terms of research, that the main battle is to get people to care about what you are trying to pass on to them – and that without that engagement you can’t really get them to learn anything. It’s only by changing the way that people think and feel that you can get a result – and the social dimension is vital in accomplishing that.

We are all social beings. A video, an elearning module or a PowerPoint might supply me with good reasons to care about a given subject – and might even provide an emotional experience – but if the people I work to and with are uninvolved with the issues and messages being put across – if they don’t really care whether my day-to-day working habits change as a result – then the primary opportunity for reinforcement has been missed.

This is 20 stuff. It’s about winning hearts and minds.

Reason 3: it’s close to home for L&D

There’s a slightly knee-jerk reaction, when discussing the 20 part of the 70:20:10 model, to start talking straight away about social media technology and whether your organisation should un-ban Facebook… But let’s forget about the technology just for a second and focus on the underlying activity. Coaching and mentoring are absolutely core activities within the traditional training canon, and recognised by no less an authority than the CIPD to be of increasing importance today. They sit squarely within the 20 category.

In fact, many of the activities that fall under the 20 are familiar to L&D departments. There may be some new and unfamiliar technology to help with and support these activities, but essentially they are nothing new. And they work.

So there’s no massive technology or delivery hurdle to get over here – if anything, the challenge is to bring learning squarely into the conversations that happen within an organisation. ‘What are you learning today?’ needs to become the most asked question; every appraisal and performance conversations should include a specific discussion around learning and, above all, managers should lead by example.

Recently, we’ve been working with British Airways on one of their leadership programmes. BA had realised that one of the keys to effective behavioral change in the leadership area is support, mentoring and continued discussion with managers before and after leadership workshops. So, not only do they ensure that all of their leaders have undertaken coaching training, but they are developing a short blended programme for the candidates’ managers – to ensure their managers support them as they learn, change and apply their knowledge.

Reason 4: It’s doable within the existing structure of organisations

Basically, organisations – even innovative, forward-thinking organisations – are structured in quite hierarchical ways. Activities in the 20 category like coaching and mentoring that rely on a ‘cascade’ of knowledge and behaviours down an organisation can leverage this structural feature of businesses to bring about widespread change.

A major learning programme we worked on with Ford relied on a carefully managed cascade of communication, knowledge, awareness and change throughout the European sales team, starting from the top and down through regional sales directors to all European sales operatives. Without the snowball of energy and passion behind it, it may have gone the way of so many other 70:10 initiatives – instead it led to more than two more vehicles sold per head per year – a massive shift in sales.

Reason 5: It works

Having worked on a number of programmes with clients, such as those mentioned above, that leaned heavily on the 20, we know that this is the way it can work.

But, results aside, it’s pretty much common sense. Look carefully at any successful blended learning programme, or indeed any major learning initiative, blended or otherwise, and you‘ll find motivated, engaged, inquisitive learners. How did they get to be in this frame of mind? Not because they stumbled across it accidentally, or because they received a badly constructed email invitation. I’ll bet that they heard about it, that they talked about it – and they’ll continue talking about it.

A last word on the 70:20:10 model

Clearly it would be foolish for an L&D department to neglect the 70 in planning a campaign of any scale – and almost suicidal to lose focus on the 10, where most conventional training interventions sit. But in my view at least (IMHO, as the techies say) there is a clear case for looking very closely at the 20, for any organisation that wants to bring about significant behavioural and attitudinal change to learning in its workforce.

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