The 70:20:10 Model – A Guest Blog by Phil LeNir

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There is more and more noise surrounding the 70:20:10 model in business. Not only limited to L&D but even in business. We recognize the dire need to engage talent and focus the efforts on development and growth. The discussions about how the model can be adjusted, applied, interpreted and embedded in the existing processes and culture are most fascinating.

There are many interpretations of the 70:20:10 model. The general understanding however is that 70% of learning is derived from work experiences such as stretch assignments, projects and exposure to interesting tasks related to the job at hand; 20% of learning is from others, such as mentoring, coaching, seniors and peers; and 10% of learning is from formal training and courses.

Some of our clients use the model to rethink their approach to developing people, others to create a culture of curiosity and growth. A number of organizations even embed it in their performance management system, training and learning planning, and needs assessment. Needless to say, 70:20:10 is a wonderful provocation permitting us to challenge the traditional approaches to workforce engagement.

Our Strategic Partner, CoachingOurselves, have anchored their entire approach to management development in the 70:20:10 philosophy and so we are pleased to feature their way to thinking in this blog.


Mintzberg, 70:20:10, and Leadership (and Management) Development 

by Phil LeNir

Years ago, when I was a young engineering director, I made the acquaintance of Professor Henry Mintzberg (see Mintzberg on Management). He is one of the classic management thinkers, like Drucker and Handy. He has plenty to say about numerous aspects of management but the area of particular interest to me is on how managers get better at their practice of management and how we can help them do this.

Henry Mintzberg is most known for his studies of working managers:

“…I studied managers and what did I say in my first book (The Nature of Managerial Work, 1973) that got the most attention; that managers are interrupted a lot, that it’s a very action oriented thing. That was patently obvious to anybody who ever managed, or spent a day observing a manager. So what makes me so special? Nothing, I just wrote it down, that’s all. … I said: ‘Gee, it’s not what everybody says. This is not planning, organizing, coordinating and controlling, to take the most popular words to describe management. This is about getting interrupted, and trying to keep your head above water.’ And everyone said, ‘Wow… geez… so fantastic…’. (See: Mintzberg on Management).

Some 25 years after he first begun studying managers, Professor Mintzberg came to a powerful conclusion on how managers get better at their job based on his real world understanding of what managers actually do. He articulated this in his book Managers not MBAs (2003): “Thoughtful reflection on natural experience, in the light of conceptual ideas, is the most powerful tool we have for management learning.”

A growing number MBA and EMBA programs are adopting Professor Mintzberg’s methodology, displacing the dominant lecture or case study method. Even Nitin Nohria, the new Dean of Harvard Business School (the bastion of the case study method) is moving through with radical change in the way young MBAs are developed. The new focus is on helping young managers learn through reflection on their experience.

I began experimenting with the application of Mintzberg’s ideas while I was that young engineering director looking for a way to develop myself and my team in the midst of the meltdown of the early 2000s. I began bringing my management team together on a regular basis for learning meetings. I modified the course material and lecture PowerPoints supplied by Professor Mintzberg and his colleagues to guide 90 minutes of reflection and discussion. These “topics” gave us the pedagogy, Professor Mintzberg gave us the experiential reflective approach, and doing this together as a team made the learning happen.

Many years later I stumbled across the 70:20:10 framework (through Jay Cross and Charles Jennings). I quickly realized that Mintzberg’s approach fit squarely within the 70:20:10 framework. It integrated reflection, the power of social learning, and allowed participants to contextualize their experiences through structured knowledge. Mintzberg’s approach to leadership development encompassed all of 70:20:10 in one. This is in contrast to many current methodologies that seem to put learning activities into 70, 20 or 10 “buckets”.

In 2007, Henry Mintzberg and I co-founded the company, CoachingOurselves. We brought Mintzberg’s approach to the enterprise learning space by working with leading management thinkers to provide topics, the themed discussion workbooks.  Management teams use these during 90-minute discussion and reflection “meetings”.  L&OD piece these together to deliver interventions and programs that solve the classic needs (“I need to develop a culture of innovation”, “I need a high potential leadership program”, “I need to deal with our engagement challenges”), but in a balanced 70:20:10 approach. In 2012, we had over 10,000 managers in 130 organizations using our topics.

The results have been beyond my initial expectations, but not without difficulties and surprises. The hardest challenge is changing the dominant L&OD mindset with the organization. Even when the HR team believes in 70:20:10 or the CEO is a big Mintzberg fan, it sometimes takes months, even years, before this very different approach can be embedded into a new initiative, piloted, and launched.

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