Monday 24 June 2013

70:20:10 - A Framework for High Performance Development Practices


Over the past few years the 70:20:10 model for development has captured the imagination of organisations across the world.

Some organisations apply 70:20:10 principles to targeted and specific development solutions. Others use it more strategically as a way to help them rethink and reposition their wider learning philosophies.

The 70:20:10 framework is a simple concept that has developed from work carried out by various researchers over the past half-century that suggests a one-dimensional focus on structured training and development – a rut that many organisations had fallen into – misses the opportunity to exploit learning and development where most of it happens, which is within the workflow.

A Reference Model, not a Recipe

It’s important to be aware that 70:20:10 is a reference model and not a recipe. The numbers are not a rigid formula. They simply remind us of the facts above – that the majority of learning and development comes through experiential and social learning in the workplace (the ‘70’ and ‘20’) rather than through formal classes and courses (the ‘10’). Of course structured and directed ‘formal’ learning can help, but it rarely, if ever, provides the complete answer.

If you acknowledge that high performers usually build their capabilities through experience, through practice and through utilising a rich network of support rather than exclusively (or even mainly) through structured training and development away from the workplace, then you will immediately grasp the 70:20:10 concept.

Why Have So Many Organisations Adopted 70:20:10?

One answer to this question lies in the fact that 70:20:10 offers an easily-understood scaffolding that can be readily adapted to re-focus development across a much wider canvas than that traditionally used by HR and Learning professionals.

Why is this important?

It’s important because research over the past 40 years at least has indicated that learning that occurs outside of formal classes and courses is not only more frequent but also generally more effective than its structured and ‘managed’ counterpart.

It’s also important because the 70:20:10 framework provides a way to integrate currently disparate development activities – such as leadership programmes, informal coaching and mentoring, and the extraction of learning from work through conversations, communities, sharing, reflective practice and other actions. It also provides a coherent framework to strategise workplace, social and structured learning activities.

High Performers

Federer_2_Daryl Sim_CCAlthough the 70:20:10 framework applies to all adult learning, it is particularly relevant when thinking about building a strategy to develop and support high performers. 

Most organisations aspire to further develop their high performers, and to develop others to become high performers, as it is the high performing cadre that drives successful organisations.

Research by the Corporate Executive Board[1] suggests that ‘enterprise contributors’ (as it calls the small cadre of high performers) can increase organisational revenue and profits by as much as 12%. That often means the difference between success and failure.

A Profile of High Performers

If we look at a generic profile of a high performer through a 70:20:10 ‘lens’ the following is clear:

  1. High performers have usually quickly mastered the basics. This was achieved often, but not always, using structured development approaches.

    This is where the ‘10’ of formal learning and development through courses and programmes can help people new to an organisation or role get ‘up-to-speed’ quickly and efficiently.
  2. They have spent hundreds of hours using practice, trial-and-error, and self-testing to hone their capabilities.

    Some of this experiential learning and reflective practice may be structured (the ‘10’). Alternatively it may be part of the workflow (the ‘70’ and ‘20’)
  3. They are embedded in their professional community both within and outside their organisation. They regularly share their expertise across their network and also call on colleagues as informal coaches and mentors when they need advice and help.

    This vital part of any high performer’s arsenal sits firmly in the ‘20’ part of the framework
  4. They have on-the-job performance support at fingertips. They know where to find the answers to the challenge-at-hand, whether it is via their own PKM (personal knowledge management) resources or simply by knowing who will be best able to help them.

    Performance support comes in many forms. It may be embedded in workflow tools (where most of the ePSS tools and systems provide support), or be accessed through ‘others’ across the high performer’s network. As such, this element can sit in both the ‘20’ and ‘70’ parts of the framework
  5. They have undertaken thousands of hours of experience and reflection, sometimes alone, sometimes with their manager and team, and sometimes with their professional network

    These activities are critical for high performance. They all sit within the ‘70’ and ‘20’ domains of the framework



  1. Hi Charles,

    Where do you think knowledge gained by reading business books belong in this 70-20-10 learning and development model? What do you think is the role and rate of the corporate library ?


    1. The original study by McCall and published in 'The Career Architect Development Planner' by Lombardo and Eichinger included 'courses and reading' in the '10'.

      One could debate whether this is the right place for reading to sit. If the reading is 'directed' - part of a structured program or an agreed activity - then '10' is clearly the right categorisation. However, if the reading is simply something that's done to keep up to speed on new ideas and approaches as part of self-directed on-going development, then it probably sits in the '70'.

      That said, reading is only a form of learning when ideas extracted are put into action. Otherwise it's just information.

      The role of the corporate library? Very useful as a resource, but not if only in dead tree format.

  2. Delighted to see this site and its emphasis on the 70-20-10 learning model.

    What is the role and place of books and reading in this 70-20-10 learning model? Do you think a corporate library plays a role in learning and performance according to this model and what do you think a corporate library of the future looks like?

  3. Thank you for that reply.

    Hope to obtain a copy of "The Career Architect Development Planner" to further read up on the traditional place given to "books, courses, reading" in the L&D Model.

    I am relieved to hear that this research speaks to a more intuitive idea of the value of books and reading and I do think that reading has a place in the 70% part of the "learning" model.

    When books are really being read as they should go beyond being only a source of information. Reading for understanding and reading for information are two different things so your distinction between reading for "Learning" and "information" is a reminder of what great theorists of learning, from Francis Bacon to Mortimer Adler, have championed.

    Yes, I agree; A "book" is much more than just one of its manifestations (the "dead tree" format for books- a great phrase!) though, of course, I continue to remain a fan of old fashioned books. But I hope libraries survive and perhaps the only way for it to survive is to embrace evolving media that offer richer conceptions of what a book is.

    In my previous post,in the last line, I meant to ask what you thought was the "fate" of the library

    Thanks, again.



  4. Charles,

    Thanks for this post! I think 70-20-10 is a great model to force L&D professionals to think differently about their profession. What struck me is the picture of Federer, because when I link the model to tennis I think 70% of learning is through formal, structured training. The experience part is limited to matches and in the end all of this learning & training when looking at the top performers is only a foundation. The talent and mentality of the player is what makes the difference.


  5. Daan,

    I disagree about the Tennis analogy. Training and not only a match for me is "learning by experience".

    Charles - thanks for sharing - we are highly supportive of the model and even make the 10% an interactive digital self-driven experience as best as we can.


    Christian Müller
    SVP - Core Learning Production

  6. Career in sports is the hardest I guess. All the time you need to make yourself stronger and you need to continue that. Yet, in other professions also performance matters the most. "If you never do, you'll never know", yes this said is completely true. It's the experience only that will learn you new things. The more experience you have the more you can understand things clearly. The all way around, a coach can help you the most. Without proper guidance, it is very much difficult to make a stand.

  7. Hmm so now its renamed for high performers. Have you evidence this theory works across say engineering or medical workers? The original theory is 50 years old, and was based on self-assessment of 200 managers. So what did they learn, was it measured? Could it be the blind leading the blind? Bear in mind Google did not exist to help 50 years ago.

    1. Maria - the 70:20:10 framework isn't a 'theory'. It's a reference model or framework that helps organisations re-focus their efforts to support learning where most of it happens - as part of the workflow. The name comes from the CCL study you mention, but research well beyond that supports the principle. You will find reference to other studies in the book mentioned here

      My colleagues and I have worked with many organisations using this approach, including with a range of medical and engineering fields. Five seconds' reflection would confirm that people working in these areas rely heavily on the '70+20' elements - learning as part of work and through others.

      Of course formal education is important, but that usually only assures part of the wherewithal necessary to deliver high performance.

  8. Of course people learn on the job: processes, culture, relationships. But can you implement a model that just is? It happens regardless of a training department. Any practical ideas for specific industries or tasks?

    1. One of the main points about the 70:20:10 model is that it has, over the past 20 years, been developed as a 'framework for strategy' rather than simply a reiteration of something that 'just is'. there is considerable evidence apart from the original CCL study that resulted in 'the numbers' that shows most learning occurs as part of the workflow. One of the preconceptions that organisations using the 70:20:10 framework are addressing is that learning only occurs when it's 'managed' by the training department.

  9. If the 70-20-10 is really effective, how can it help in increasing the productivity of the employee especially in Manufacturing Industry?

  10. There are some good examples of how 70:20:10 is working in the manufacturing industry to improve productivity. A case study from Freisland Campina, the world's largest diary cooperative is in this whitepaper

  11. I just want to say Charles that 70:20:10 is the baseline of championing and supporting learning in the flow of work and L&D has now reached a tipping point where we cannot continue to order-design-deliver content that we have no idea of the impact or the great Learning Con as I call it. If we don't wake up and smell the coffee it will go cold and someone else will be making the coffee soon not L&D!

  12. Delighted to see this site and its emphasis on the 70-20-10 learning model.

    What is the role and place of books and reading in this 70-20-10 learning model? Do you think a corporate library plays a role in learning and performance according to this model and what do you think a corporate library of the future looks like?