Don’t think training first for employee development


Hhere’s a quick question. Where did you have your most impactful lgain experience?

A. In a class or course
B. At a meeting
C. At a conference or workshop
D. In your job, complete a project or task

Did you answer D? I’ve asked this same question many times to managers of organizations, to leaders, and in presentations I’ve given, and the answers are always the same. The vast majority (around 80%) agree that their greatest learning experience has occurred during real work: solving a problem, completing a task and/or collaborating with others. It’s also worth noting that this high response rate reinforces some research originally done at the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1990s. It was here that the 70-20-10 principle was born. If you are unfamiliar with this principle, these numbers roughly represent percentages of how people learn in an organization.

-Mmost learning (70%) occurs on the job, through experiences

-SSome learning (the 20%) takes place through our social interactions: collaboration, sharing and storytelling

-Far less learning (the 10 percent) goes through training, courses and classes

Of course, the exact percentages are not important and may vary depending on your context (for example: a new employee, or novice, may learn more as part of a formal onboarding program). However, as people gain experience and knowledge, they need less training and more opportunities to connect and reflect. Are we doing enough — or are we trapped in the training-first paradigm of the 20th century?

If you’re a small or medium-sized business, it’s time to look forward, not backward. The 21st century learning and performance landscape is very different from the 20th century landscape that created IBM, HP, Blockbuster Video and Kodak.

Change happens quickly, so employers and employees should consider supporting faster ways to learn. For employers, a workforce that can continuously learn, improve, connect and collaborate is more responsive to change. Similarly, workers who have a strong network and can find what they need when they need it acquire skills faster than through a traditional academic course model. (Source:

Organizations today need to better support all the learning that occurs. If it’s not obvious, here are some other reasons why it’s necessary to create a framework to encourage and enable 70:20:10.

It’s the answer to complexity
The world of work, markets and technology are constantly changing. Adopting permanent approaches, structures and tools makes no sense because the lifespan is short and the technology expensive. Best principles, not practices, are needed today, and agility and speed win. The 70:20:10 approach reduces friction in the workflow by allowing learning and work to be more closely linked.

It’s simple
Adopting 70:20:10 requires no new software, training, or infrastructure changes. It is a shift in mindset from compliance, completion, presence and guidance to assistance, empowerment, guidance and modelization. We need to move away from industrial-age performance-enhancing approaches that often create unnecessary layers of work on top of real work. The 70:20:10 mindset is about paving the way for cows, not creating new roads.

It’s about doing, not learning
If you go by the numbers, about 90% of 70:20:10 is in and around actual work. The 70:20:10 plan aims to get work done better, faster and more efficiently by making work more visible and encouraging people to connect and collaborate. It is about reflecting on the work done to bring out new ideas and being aware of the knowledge gained while doing the work.

It’s a question of autonomy
In an ever-changing world, a 70:20:10 framework doesn’t dismiss the importance of the right to hire, but it adds the understanding that new hires need less hands-on. As adults, if given the freedom to explore, connect, question and contribute, they will. The 70:20:10 approach is not anti-training, rather it ensures that training – with all its baggage around monitoring and futile efforts to measure learning – is not the default response to performance improvement efforts.

Here are some things you should think about about the 70:20:10 frame.

• About 90% of learning budgets are allocated to 10% of the places where the actual learning takes place.
• People are more likely to contact a colleague or search Google before accessing content from a learning management system.
• Learning happens constantly and continuously, but in most organizations it is unsupported and left to chance.

So what should companies consider?
First, the culture. Most small and medium-sized businesses inherently have a more cooperative and collaborative culture. Look around you. Are your employees continually looking for innovative approaches and new ideas to inform their practices? Are they openly asking for help and willing to share their ideas? Do they have easy access to various content sources inside and outside the organization such as the intranet and the Internet? If you don’t trust the people you hire to make good decisions for themselves and the organization, why did you hire them?

Second, management. If you have a management layer, are your people focused on timelines and deliverables and on reporting and communication? This is traditional thinking. Not that it’s not important to meet job demands and communication, but if the organization is to be more open, managers need to become coaches and mentors and focus more on reducing barriers to work. .

Finally, technology. Most jobs today involve technology to accomplish critical tasks; this may include project management tools for file structures and data aggregation. All serve to accomplish the work of today.

But what about preparing for tomorrow’s work? What’s on the horizon isn’t decades away. Collaborative technology or enterprise social networks are superior to email in ensuring ongoing conversations, sharing, and community building across the organization. Social tools not only help improve communication, but also increase opportunities for collaboration through diverse opinions where innovative ideas are often born.

Your company’s latest solution or service does not reside with one individual but between people, in their conversations. Social technology can be the best tool to help your business remain a positive and productive culture.

Today, the need for organizations to remain responsive is essential. Circumstances can change quickly, from the adoption of new technologies to market developments. Disruption is more the norm than the exception, and your employees’ ability to be aware and respond is now necessary. Training was the ideal primary solution when conditions were more stable, and it still has its place when done right and for the right reasons, like when you’re learning something for the first time. However, training ultimately helps to solve the problems that we know. Collaboration, cooperation, and experimentation help solve future problems.

Mark Britz is a workforce performance strategist who started ThruWork (, a talent development consultancy for small and medium-sized businesses. The firm specializes in solving organizational performance issues and focuses on non-training approaches to changing employee performance. He holds a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego and a master’s degree from Syracuse University. Contact Britz at (315) 552-0538 or email: [email protected]


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