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Is the 70:20:10 model for learning & development a myth?

Sounds like an essay question for college or university, doesn’t it? The 70:20:10 model was developed by Morgan McCall at the Centre for Creative Leadership in the 1980’s – the era of Wham and ‘Last Christmas’. (I bet you’re humming it now… 😊)

70:20:10 is based on McCall’s research which found 70% learn and develop through experience i.e. on the job, 20% learn and develop through others – this can be through networks, coaching & mentoring etc.; and finally, 10% learn and develop through a structured courses or programs.

New research has come out from various sources that a 55:25:20 is a more appropriate split, now not that I am cynical, but a lot of this research has come from training forums – so of course they will increase the formal training aspect since that is their bread & butter. Having researched a lot on this subject, I do believe they have a point in how the development should be split. However, the point is not so much as 70:20:10 versus 55:25:20 but having a split that is appropriate and tailored to your organisation, team and ultimately the individual. Some roles in companies are very technical so would need more formal training and other roles would benefit more from coaching or mentoring. The key is to understand what is best for your organisation, and implement a learning & development strategy that fits, but also allows individuals to choose what is best for them – basically develop a learning culture!

Interestingly, the learning from others has remained around a ¼ in most research, this is usually in the form of coaching/mentoring. The whole area of introducing an external coach is becoming the norm now within organisations, to hone and develop their emerging leaders or senior executives.

Sir John Whitmore stated, ‘Coaching is one of the most effective skills for human growth. It is a different way of viewing people, a far more optimistic way than most of us are accustomed to, it results in a different way of treating them. It requires us to suspend limiting beliefs about people, including ourselves, abandon old habits & liberate ourselves from redundant ways of thinking.’

One of the reasons why coaching has become more popular is the further understanding of adult learning. Children learn by creating new connections in the brain and putting them together in sequences. Adults, however, already have a brain full of connections, and reorganising existing knowledge – sometimes referred to as unlearning – is an essential component of the process. Each adult learner has a unique set of experiences, mental models and assumptions. Restructuring and reordering what is known requires active, engaged participation in the learning process, relating ideas and concepts to personal experience. Research shows that for this to happen the new knowledge needs to be of practical and personal value to the learner. Adults commit to learning when they can connect it to their goals and aspirations.

When I coach I endeavour to create an environment through creating space for thinking and reflecting, so that the client understands their values and the beliefs that drive them, thereby deepening their self-awareness. These values and beliefs then create a platform for the success of their goals, since they are aligned to who they are - all of this is facilitated so that the client develops the solution/plan themselves, rather than being told. I tend to work through the sessions on 2 or 3 key development outcomes which have usually been aligned to their development plan.

So, when is the best time to bring a coach into your organisation? I believe the following key moments in a leader’s life are where coaching intervention is best applied:

1.     To retain valuable leaders

2.     When a company is undergoing growth or change

3.     As a succession planning too

4.     On-boarding when an executive is being promoted or moved to a new role

5.     When training courses or internal 'mentors' are not an option

6.     To assist with cultural alignment

I hope the above has given you food for thought on what the best approach is to develop your people, if not at least you have gone away with ‘Last Christmas’ ringing in your ears.


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