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Is 70:20:10 Relevant Today? Or Are We Living in the Past? - Part 1

By Tacy Byham, Ph.D.

Tacy ByhamI have three numbers that are bothering me. They relate to 70:20:10, but those aren’t my three vexing numbers.  Instead, the first number is 10,000. If you’ve read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, you undoubtedly recognize this as the number of hours it takes to go from novice to expert. Let’s contrast this against my second number: 66. This is the newly updated number of days it takes to form a habit. Yes, that’s right, 66 days to start something (like make a habit of an exercise routine) or stop something (like quit that smoking habit). Finally, there’s the number 31. Thirty-one represents the number of training hours, per the Association for Talent Development (ATD, formerly ASTD), that organizations spend annually to develop their leaders.

This is vexing, because I can’t seem to figure out how, as learning and development professionals, we can ever reach our goal to develop ready-now leaders for our organizations if we only have 31 hours. During those 31 hours leaders can be introduced to a skill, such as decision making, delegation, building trust, or driving performance, but they certainly won’t make a habit of this new skill with that limited amount of time. And they are many, many hours away from becoming a master.

Is 70:20:10 Relevant Today?The answer lies in another set of three numbers: 70:20:10. We all know that the number 10 refers to formal learning. In essence, this is the 31 hours measured by ATD. Think of it. As a new leader, being invited to a formal learning event is exciting and validating to your career development interests. So, you come to the session an engaged learner, ready to soak it all in. Yet…time passes back on the job and unfortunately, far too often, your excitement and true application of the learnings taper off over time.

Luckily corporate learning has evolved! We don’t offer only formal learning, and haven’t for years. We know that our learners require a continuous learning environment, which we call a learning journey. A learning journey builds excitement and interest before the formal learning, and creates a post-training environment rich with activities to ensure we don’t just build awareness, but instead create lasting behavior change for our ready-now leaders. Some of the activities that extend beyond the 10 into the 20 and the 70 are:

  • Simulation-based learning to practice and cement the new skills.
  • Peer coaching sessions.
  • Feedback and support from managers.
  • Organized lunch and learn sessions to further refine, apply, and maximize adoption of the skills.

These types of activities keep learning alive for learners; and they solve the issue of limited time (31 hours) for formal learning. This is much like the community of support that marathon athletes use when training for an event. They train together, provide recommendations on pace and nutrition, and together they simulate the “big race” day with mini-marathons. Again, this is continuous focus on their journey to complete a marathon and not a single event.

So, all of this leads back to my opening question—is 70:20:10 still relevant for today’s learners? Or are we living in the past? We’ll explore that in part two of my blog.

Tacy Byham, Ph.D. is DDI's Senior Vice President.

Read Part 2 of this series, Is 70:20:10 Relevant Today? Or Are We Living in the Past?

Posted: 10 Mar, 2015,
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