Taking Workplace Leadership Development Seriously

“70:20:10” – the principle that 70% of learning comes from experiences, 20% from coaching and relationships, and 10% in the classroom – is gaining traction.  Only those with a strong interest in formal learning – the 10% – would dispute the essential role of experience in development.  But belief in a new philosophy is seldom followed by a revolution in practice.  Learning & development continues to flirt with blended learning but the basic building block remains the course, not the job.

So if there is common consent about the key role of the experiential “70%”, why are organisations dragging their heels?  What keeps them locked-into old fashioned and ineffective ways of developing their talent?  Here are four reasons:

  1. Although many organisations have implemented some of the components needed for effective workplace leadership development[1], they seldom form a coherent framework and there are important pieces missing
  2. It is not clear to individuals and their managers which experiences develop the leadership capabilities needed for success at higher levels.  As a result talent processes usually stop short of producing smart actionable solutions for high potentials
  3. Senior leaders baulk at the idea that their best people will be rotated through a series of “unproductive” experiences over a long period.  Experiences which develop leadership capability for the long term compete with the productivity demands of the current job
  4. Blended learning is an advance towards 70-20-10, but the designs safeguard the multi-billion £$€ training industry – buyers are aware of the shortcomings but struggle to see a viable and scalable alternative

If we were to design leadership development from the “70%” not the “10%” what could we do?  Here are seven propositions:

  1. Sculpt roles so they provide experiences which prepare for leadership at the next level of accountability
  2. And sculpt roles, too, so they challenge individuals to lead within their current job responsibilities
  3. But don’t add developmental experiences without rebalancing the portfolio of responsibilities in the job.  Consider the overall shape of the role
  4. Define what leadership looks like at every level of accountability and knit experiences into developmental pathways
  5. Set performance expectations which require people to build their personal leadership capital and acknowledge those who step up to the plate
  6. Adopt principles of “mass customisation” in formal programmes.  Design a platform of frameworks, structures and processes that give individuals a personalised development experience
  7. Enhance opportunities for experiential learning (experiments, shadow partnering, communities of practice, etc), but ensure there are structures in place (e.g. 1:1 and group coaching and mentoring) for reflection

Two-thirds of HR executives believe that developing the skills, knowledge, and behaviour of existing talent is their greatest challenge.  They know future leadership is forged in the crucibles of work experience not the tranquillity of the classroom.  70-20-10’s rise reflects general frustration with the training industry’s failure to prepare people for complex leadership challenges.  It’s time to stop tinkering with the experiential “70%” and take seriously the idea and practice of workplace leadership development.


[1] See Mark’s paper, “Out of Classroom Experiences”, to find out more about the components most and least popular with L&D professionals.


Mark Jenner -


  1. drijen
    May 20, 2011

    a comment

  2. Peter Cook
    May 21, 2011

    I could not agree more Mark. Whilst I am fortunate to have had a good formal education which provides great underpinning knowledge to help me understand why I do what I do, my major development in terms of leadership has come from being sent round the world to fix factories at an early age and from playing in rock bands – aka the University of Life.

    Companies should really take this seriously.


Leave a Reply