...and what we can do about it.
I’ll come clean from the start, I’m an enthusiastic practitioner and advocate of 70:20:10. I’ve found it to be a liberating framework that delivers performance based solutions and helps to break L&D out of the confines of… well, L&D.
In addition to the underlying mindset shift, it’s opened a treasure trove of techniques, tools and possibilities to support lasting positive change in organisations and people. But before we pop the champagne and enjoy life with crowds of continuous learners joyfully working in performance boosting ecosystems, I’ve got to admit there have been challenges.
So, in the spirit of #WorkOutLoud, here are my top five reasons why 70:20:10 solutions can fail (and what can be done about it):
1. Organisations have a training culture
A training culture might be seen as a positive, but it pales in comparison to a learning culture. Pete Senge popularised the idea of learning organisations, which he defined as places “where people continually expand the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 2006)
With greater demand for innovation, customer centricity and agility the need for organisations, and therefore people, to grow and transform has become more relevant than ever.
Too many organisations have been struck by the blight of a ‘training culture’. L&D must take some responsibility for our role in fostering a sense of passivity, where people, hungry for development, believe that they are dependent on courses and events, but the problem runs much deeper. From our youth, schools told us that we learn about the world in a classroom, rather than presenting the world as our classroom. It’s no wonder that a culture of continuous learning can sometimes feel elusive as a result.
What we can do
Companies wanting to overcome the training blight and become learning organisations have an urgent need for a more holistic (read 70:20:10) approach, of which formal training plays an important role to help introduce ideas, prime mindset, and develop conceptual frameworks, but it’s just one element of a broader on the job and social experience.
We can begin to moving to a holistic approach by:
- Developing an empowered culture. This is a huge topic in itself but includes leaders demonstrating openness to new ideas including willingness to fail fast, and develop a culture of reflection.
- Supporting knowledge sharing. Leader led initiatives supporting #WorkingOutLoud can make a huge step in this direction and can be extended to support user generated micro content to develop a library of just in time resources.
- ‘Detraining’ and reframing learning. I usually recommend a formal ‘Learn to Learn’ element as part of our 70:20:10 solutions. This might consist of a three minute video, or incorporated into a 20 minute intro webinar. The aim of this reframe is to introduce the principles of 70:20:10 (without using the name) and encourage people to embrace what they inherently know, that learning is something that happens by them not to them.
2. Managers aren’t up for the challenge
The oft quoted Learning & Development 2003 Employee Development Survey identified that direct reports of managers who are most effective at development out perform others by 25 to 27%. The same report noted similar benefits to retention, satisfaction, commitment and adaptability.
Fully engaged managers can:
- Lead by example through demonstrating curiousity, a growth mindset and continuous learning approach
- Coach reports to bring a conscious approach to work place development
- Oversee stretch assignments and action learning projects
- Help deepen reflection by fostering a habit of reflective questions
- Champion performance tools, social enterprise networks and other social and on the job infrastructure
One of the earliest 70:20:10 solutions I helped design required Managers to play a proactive role in an onboarding process. Despite assurances that these Managers were primed and able to provide support, in practice a significant minority didn’t engage. The lack of executive support saw this problem grow to the point where the program was a shadow of what it could have been. This experience left me with a simple takeaway:
Build it and they will come (but only if they’ve got a switched on Manager who actively supports them).
What we can do
Having managers who are unable or unwilling to support engagement in 70:20:10 solutions represents a fundamental problem, yet it’s an all too common scenario. These days, we consider a range of options to address possible gaps in motivation and ability of Managers, including:
- Leadership support. Ensuring there are vocal and proactive executives backing the solution
- Marketing approach. Investing in a marketing campaign style communication plan that targets Managers as well as participants, focusing on WIIFM and key benefits
- Leveraging champions. Identifying key Managers who are influencers to champion the roles we need them to play
- Support Managers to support each other. Establishing group coaching for Managers with the view to seed ongoing communities of practice
- Support Managers with on the job toolkits. Providing toolkits and micro-learning to provide just in time support for coaching conversations, mentoring and embedding a culture of reflection
3. People don’t access micro-learning or performance tools
Einstein once said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Similarly, as we break from our L&D ‘knowledge obsession’ we can move to focus on performance support.
This might involve new tools, checklists, quick reference guides and micro-learning that can be accessed just in time and just enough to allow someone to efficiently complete a task or project, while minimising cognitive load and unnecessary memory requirements.
People might not engage with relevant micro-learning or performance tools for a number of reasons:
- Lack of pay off. People mightn’t see a clear return on investment for their time and effort in using the new resources
- Hassle. People might be used to a particular workflow and not motivated to change it to incorporate other tools or support
- Time. The process of finding and accessing a ‘just in time’ tool might take too long. How long is too long? Think how long you’re prepared to spend googling an answer when you’re trying to get something done. This shortfall is usually caused by the lack of platform or technological infrastructure to simply and efficiently search, recommend, rate, and disseminate content
What we can do
There are a few ways we’ve tried to address this challenge:
- Empathise with the target audience. Using Design Thinking and Action Mapping to more deeply understand peoples perspectives, underlying needs and workflow. With these insights we’re more able to include just in time resources and tools when people most need support and in ways they would most like to access them. We can even identify common triggers or anchors that can form the basis of new habits. Where possible, such approaches are prototyped and tested before a full roll out.
- Profile champions. We highlight champions and influencers who use the system and achieve strong results.
- Hack infrastructure as required. We’ve found that LMSs manage training content, but rarely support just in time or performance solutions. As a result we’re currently working on two projects to deliver custom WordPress builds that incorporate a CMS style and deliver content that is just in time and just enough. We’re also looking at using xAPI to generate meaningful data and feedback from this process (call out to my talented colleague Cameron Hodgkinson, who’s spearheading this work)
4. Operations can’t handle it
Currently, many 70:20:10 solutions take the form of blended learning solutions, but as Charles Jennings pointed out, while this is on the right road, it isn’t the end of the journey. Blended learning is a great start but, in many ways, it’s more useful to create solutions as campaigns or ecosystems.
Many organisations aren’t ready to logistically rollout innovative blends let alone supporting ongoing campaigns or ecosystems.
We learnt this when a blended learning solution I helped design for a large Australian company gained positive learner reviews but drew the ire of the company’s operations team. They were concerned with handling the complexity of multiple short webinars, the ‘bitsy’ nature of on the job toolkits, and struggled with hosting the suite of micro videos we’d produced (it sounded like putting them on the LMS was as effective as putting them on a USB and flushing it down the toilet).
What we can do
There are a number of things we do to handle such challenges:
- Consider infrastructure early. See the earlier point about ‘hacking infrastructure as required’. Sometimes this might be simple and low tech. For example, in the case I mentioned where the operations team struggled to rollout a blend, part of the solution involved creating a simple portal to house the videos and sending email reminders for various events from a new email address (because apparently most people ignored the ones sent via the LMS email!).
- Empathise with operations. As mentioned, we use a design thinking approach mixed with lashings of action mapping, which focuses squarely on the learner experience. This is still where we begin but, at a early stage of the process, we now introduce operations. We reach out to the team who will be delivering and overseeing BAU of the solution and more actively explore how we can best work with them to deliver the engaged learner experience we are all seeking.
5. They won’t invest in something they can’t see
“Organisations with strong informal learning capabilities, including social learning, are 300% more likely to excel at global talent development than organisations without those competencies.” (Bersin by Deloitte, March 2012)
Embracing the power of informal learning is a requirement for a culture of continuous learning and sustained high performance.
Learning is too often considered a commoditised product that must be defined, packaged and managed. Simultaneously, organisations and L&D departments often use success metrics such as knowledge-based assessments, attendance to learning events, and traffic on an LMS.
While many people implicitly understand the power of informal learning, the above factors make it challenging to fully embrace. As a result many 70:20:10 blends are pressured to bend the stick towards formal, to satisfy key stakeholder expectations about ‘what a program should be’ and to ‘deliver something tangible’.
What we can do
The obvious answer here is to focus on performance rather than learning outcomes but that is unsatisfying for many, because we don’t live in a lab and the causes for increased performance are often interlinked, complex and slightly intangible.
Ironically, that’s the point.
Informal learning supports performance because at its best it’s interlinked, complex and slightly intangible. It involves people pulling learning as they need, learning through collaboration, and reflecting on experience.
On one level this should align with a ‘bottom line’ approach of many executives because the focus is on business metrics. As the late great Jay Cross put it: “Executives don’t want learning; they want execution. They want performance. Informal does not mean unintentional. Those who leave informal learning to chance leave money on the table. Informal learning is a profit strategy.”
Still, in my experience, this is one of the hardest challenges to overcome and does tend to require an initial leap of faith to get started.
Perhaps you’re a seasoned 70:20:10 practitioner who found this all pretty basic. I’ve got one thing to say to you, if you told me about this years ago I could’ve picked this up from the 20 instead of the 70. I forgive you, but start working out loud already!
Maybe you’re someone who’s begun to play with 70:20:10 and have experienced some of these challenges. I hope this, and the comments it might spark, contribute to you having a smoother ride.
Or maybe you’re still focused on traditional courses and aren’t sure whether 70:20:10 is worth the effort. To you I’d say beware, as the road ahead will be bumpy, and there’ll be unexpected turns and challenges. And, despite all of that, the journey is definitely worthwhile.