The 70/20/10 Learning Model

Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger published the data from one study in their 1996 book ‘Career Architect Development Planner’ which revealed that lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly 70% from tough jobs, 20% from people (mostly the boss) and 10% from courses and reading.
70-20-10 Forum.

Does that match up with your own experiences? Have you learnt 70% of what you know (in your career) from the toughest jobs you’ve done?

Now I’m not sure about how to measure this exactly, nor do I know what the definition of tough is (eg technically, politically, socially, environmentally, etc), but I can definitely say that I’ve learnt a huge amount from my most challenging assignments.

I learnt more in my final year of Uni than all preceding years when completing my practical project (I designed and built a WDM [Wavelength Division Multiplexing] network from resistors, transistors, hand-spun inductors, lasers, detectors, integrated circuits and custom-built circuit boards). I completely under-estimated how tough that would be when dreaming up that assignment!!

My biggest working challenges have been a couple of tier-one Telco OSS projects. Needless to say, those are the projects from which I’ve learnt the most too (and developed the passion for OSS).

Do you go looking for the toughest assignments? Are they on OSS projects by any chance?? 🙂

There are at least two people who subscribe to this blog who have spent years developing their own OSS, almost single-handedly. Now that’s what I call an insanely tough job! Both are insanely knowledgeable about almost all aspects of OSS. Massive hat tips to both for having the courage to chase the tough jobs.

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10 thoughts on “The 70/20/10 Learning Model

  1. I’ve learned a lot from managers. In my first “proper” adult job, i was told that i would learn more from bad managers because i would be conscious of not adopting bad behaviours. You absorb and mimic a lot of the good traits you see in managers / leaders you admire without realising it.

  2. Hi Analia,

    Your points are so true! The “mimicking the good and avoiding the bad” model is fantastic advice to have received so early in your career.
    To be honest I found the “mostly the boss” comment to be the most thought-provoking part of Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger’s approach. Whilst I’ve had some good (and bad) bosses over the years, I tend to think that I’ve probably learnt more from my colleagues than bosses. However, I can completely understand how others would have had powerful life coaches as their bosses. Sounds like you have. 🙂

  3. I think the ‘mostly the boss’ comment by Lombardo and Eichinger reflects the time at which their 70:20:10 survey was carried out (in the late-1980s /early 1990s). At that time email was embryonic and organisations were much more ‘structured’ and hierarchical, so ‘the boss’ was usually more in touch with her/his team on a daily basis – and face-to-face.
    Now the ‘boss’ is still vitally important in supporting employee development, but in a rather extended way. Of course modelling the best is important, as well as creating stretch opportunities and tough experiences to help team members build their capabilities, but the boss is critical for helping to create a culture of continuous learning where people don’t see ‘learning’ as something that always happens away from the workplace, but as something that happens every day. the ‘boss’ has an important role in this mindset change, and in practical ways such as using team meetings for reflective practice and learning, and helping team members build supportive networks, and so on.

    Also, I think it’s important to remember that 70:20:10 model is not about ‘the numbers’ – the emphasis on experiential learning (the ’70) and social learning (the ’20’) will vary depending on the nature of the work, the nature of the organisation, and the nature of the individual. However it does reinforce the fact that employee development doesn’t end at structured learning and that there are many things a manager and each of us individually can do to embed learning in our everyday workflow.

  4. Hi Charles,
    Great point about the era in which the “mostly the boss” comments were made. That certainly adds another layer to the discussion.
    Yes, I completely agree about the actual ratios being dependent on the individual and their environment.
    I get the sense that you are really passionate about this subject matter and perhaps even live and breathe it, so having your expert insights here on PassionateAboutOSS.com is greatly appreciated!

  5. Hi Ryan,
    Charles Jennings is most definitely an expert in both the theory behind and practical application of 70:20:10. And now I know that he brings a critical historical perspective, which can be so important to understanding. Good to hear from you, Charles.

  6. Hi Ted,
    Wow! Amazing how our topics of interest cross over again here on PAOSS! I hadn’t even thought of 70/20/10’s relevance to you but in hindsight it seems so obvious.

  7. Thanks for the ‘historical’ comment, Ted 😉

    Your excellent work with embedded business process guidance and support is a critical part of the 70:20:10 approach.

    Too often organisations throw good money away by attempting to train people at ‘task’ level when many tasks are becoming increasingly complex and nuanced. Added to this is the fact that psychology research for well over 100 years indicates that the human memory for detail is poor, to say the least, and we forget most of what we ‘learn’ within a few hours unless it is reinforced in the context of use.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen large budgets squandered on away-from-work training to support the implementation of new systems and processes when far better use of the money and resource would be made by providing systems-based and human-based performance support at the point-of-need.

  8. What I didn’t say above is that embedded business process guidance and performance support sit firmly in the ’70’ and ’20’ parts of the 70:20:10 model.

  9. Ted and Charles,
    Fascinating subject matter. Sounds like I should shout you guys dinner and absorb the highly enlightening conversation that would undoubtedly ensue!

  10. Thanks Charles. You are too kind!

    Ryan, when we first bumped into each online my first reaction was that OSS and BSS are very technical, telco-focussed domains that have little to do with Business Process Guidance. What I now realise is that they are entirely compatible with BPG. Each is about getting work done efficiently and effectively by getting the best out processes, technology and people. At its core, what a telco might call OSS is little different from what a bank might call ‘manufacturing’ (aka loan application processing), and as far as the people involved in the doing are concerned, many of the issues and challenges they face are the same. Process is process and they always run more smoothly when the people doing them can access guidance as and when needed.

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