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9 Guidelines on 70:20:10 Framework To Accelerate Time To Competence: Powerful Tips From the Founder


Compress time to competence with 70:20:10 framework


70:20:10 framework has seen its induction in several organizations. I got a chance to have a conversation with Dr. Charles Jennings, a learning thought leader and advocate of 70:20:10 framework to investigate the potential this model hold to accelerate employee workplace learning and performance. He emphasizes that this framework if applied strategically, can enable organizations to compress time-to-competence. In this article, I will share 9 guidelines Dr. Charles shared which applied strategically can enable organizations to compress time-to-competence. 

 Dr Charles JenningsCharles Jennings is one of the world’s leading experts on building and implementing 70:20:10 learning strategies. 70:20:10 is based on observations that high performing individuals and organizations build most of their capability by learning within the workflow. Also called the ‘3Es approach’ – Experience: Exposure: Education. He has consulted on, and led, learning and performance improvement projects for multinational corporations and government agencies for more than 30 years. Click here to read more about 70:20:10 framework. http://charles-jennings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/702010-framework-for-high-performance.html

What’s wrong with today’s training?

“The traditional training model really emerged to meet industrial requirements – requirements of standardization; requirements of following the defined process; requirements very much to do with the industrial society rather than the post-industrial society. Today there is increasing complexity; there is an increasing number of jobs that require the ability to deal with ambiguity and requires decision-making and higher cognitive skills. Many of the transactional jobs have been replaced by technology or have been reduced due to ‘de-layering’ in organizations. What we need to help people develop for now is decision-making work – work which is not going to be repetitive.”

“I also think there is this factor that I call ‘the inherent inertia of training’.  There is an inertia in the training model. It takes time to develop a really good training program, it can be six months, it can be a year whereas often the requirements of senior people in organizations to implement a change and to make things happen don’t allow for that sort of time. When I was in a Chief Learning Officer role, I noticed that training and learning specialists would often spend three or four months carrying out training needs analysis. Now there are two problems there. Firstly, you don’t have three to four months to carry out that sort of analysis. And secondly, the thinking behind training needs analysis was probably wrong from the start. ‘Training needs analysis’ implies that training is the solution – even before we start looking at the problems to be solved. That’s why I often talk about performance analysis, as we need to analyze the performance problem and not the ‘training needs’.”

“When I look at a company that is rolling out a new system –  it might be a new finance system or a new CRM system or whatever – almost inevitably, the project team insists on training people (usually in classrooms or through eLearning) on this new system before the system goes live. So by the time the system does go live, the likelihood is that no-one remembers anything about the training. What they do when they encounter a problem using the new system is they ask a friend or colleague nearby ‘Have you used this system yet? Can you tell me how I do this?’ or they call up the help desk. Their last option might be to pull out the training manual or their training notes and flick through them to see if they can find the answer to their problem. This is a major drawback of training – It often simply hampers time-to-competence.”

How can Organizations use the 70:20:10 framework to compress Time to Competence?

Dr. Charles shared 9 practical guidelines to leverage 70:20:10 framework to accelerate time-to-competence.

70:20:10 framework

1. Bring learning in the context and to the point of need

“One of the critical elements in terms of compressing time to competence is if you can bring the learning as close to the point of need as possible, that’s likely to accelerate the opportunity. According to Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, if you give people content without context, they will forget 50% of what they’ve learned within one hour. Ebbinghaus’ experiments were carried out more than 120 years ago, but others have replicated his results more recently. Basically, we know that learning without context is often no learning at all.”

“If for example, I give you some directions as to how to get from your office to somewhere else, you would be unlikely just to simply try and remember those unless you’re going to walk out the door now and travel a relatively short distance. If you’re going to get up and walk out the door right now, you may just say ‘okay’. If I said, for example, ‘you go first left then take the second right and go a hundred yards further’ – you might just try to remember that.If the directions were more complex you’d write it down. When things complex, we don’t try and commit to memory. Also, we usually don’t commit things to memory that we’re not likely to use very often. With a journey, we will learn how to make it only after we’ve done it a couple of times. We learn through practice in context. Many learning professionals (and others) don’t understand that.”

“Certainly learning is generally like that. If we can get the help and support when we need it, we can use it straight away. And then once we’ve done it two or three times, we commit it to memory. Once you attempt to use a training model where you take people away from the context of the workplace, you actually create a ‘glass ceiling.”

2. Take information content out of formal training

“Usually, in a typical training program, there is a large amount of content that I would call ‘informational and knowledge content’. Now, a classroom is probably the most inefficient and ineffective way to deliver that information. I wouldn’t suggest that people don’t need that information. Of course, they may need that information, but I think one of the simple ways to reduce time-to-competence is to change the channel of delivery of that information and knowledge content. One key element to accelerating time-to-competence is that we should change formal training from being content-rich and experience-poor to being experience-rich and content-light. So we should take much of the informational content out and make it available beforehand (maybe PDF, online, eLearning module etc.) so that people have access to it before they come to a course. They can read it in their own time as part of their own workflow. That’s just an efficiency measure, which I think will certainly help us just to reduce the time that is spent in terms of training and compress that time. “

“Now, does that compress the time to competence? I think it helps because it goes towards building a mindset of continuous learning. People with this mindset tend to create and use opportunities for learning beyond structured or ‘formal learning environments. They are more efficient at self-directed learning. If the content is informational and if it’s about a new process, or if they need to know certain things, let people become the masters of their own learning of that and let them learn that and study that and read that in their own time.”

3. Get best out of time when people are together in the formal training

“How we are learning? We’re learning through conversations like this. We’re learning through talking to people. We’re learning through reading blogs or reading things in our own time – all the time – or trying things out and making errors. I think the one way we can look at shortening the time spent in training is by encouraging these things. Therefore we can use formal classroom training to get people come together to learn when collaborative learning is best. We should do what we all do best together – ‘learn through experience and practice, share and reflect’. Let’s redesign our instructional development to make sure that it’s deeply experiential that it’s a safe place for people to make mistakes, a safe place for people to share with each other and to learn from each other, a safe place for people to practice.”

4. Build core critical thinking in the training

“When we get down to learning at ‘task level’, we know that many tasks – the way we approach them, the way we complete them in our more complex world – are now often unique, these are not the things that we’ve seen before; we can’t replicate them; they’re not identical. That’s when we need and support those core capabilities of critical analysis. We need to develop those core capabilities, and I would argue quite strongly that training should be focused on helping people build these core skills – critical analytical skills and critical thinking skills. Those are the skills needed. If we bring those together with performance support; we know the right questions to ask to get the right performance support to achieve our performance.”

5. Design opportunities for reflection

“From a practical point of view, making sure that structured training is experiential and contains designed opportunities to reflect the situations that people are going to encounter in the workplace. It certainly accelerates performance. The opportunities of reflection have to be built into day-to-day work after the training as well.”

 6. Use the checklists to avoid unnecessary informational training

“I think that the humble checklist is really underrated. I often feel that we can spend days training people, and actually, we could give them three or four pages of clear checklists and we help them just as much as three days of training. I think from a training point of view, certainly providing checklist within the 70:20:10 model to help reduce time-to-competence by taking away some of the need to put people through formal training. For example, the French company Dannon, makers of dairy foods, yogurts, bottled water and other products employing 100,000 employees, is using checklists to compress time to competence. Of course, checklists have been used by aircraft pilots and many other groups very successfully for years. They are also now being used more and more in medical contexts. Professor Atul Gwande, author of ‘Checklist Manifesto’ has helped improve success rates in hospital surgeries across the world with checklists.”

 7. Provide opportunity to build network

“When analyze high performing people and high performing teams, they almost always rely on some structured development to get started. But that isn’t all that makes them high performers. There’s a lot more to it than that.”

“For example, if I am a new software developer, new into the organization, it will help if I can spend maybe a week shadowing someone who is seen as an expert in this area, maybe work with him in a project for a week. That’s going to give me so much learning.”

“We can build performance support in our organizations which doesn’t need any technical infrastructure. This may include activities such as helping people build better social networks and work-based social networks. Most large multinational companies have excellent expert locator systems or employee directories to enable employees to reach out to the right mentor or expert to accelerate their learning.”

“The point is one needs to help people build the networks to get access to the high performers. Often they need to look outside their own group or team, and sometimes outside their organization. There has been a lot of research carried out around the fact that people who have wide networks are often higher performers than those who don’t.”

“We can use things such as job sharing or job swaps etc. I’ve seen these approaches work so well. I’ve seen young project managers develop really fast by being given a really complex project to manage and being provided with a senior project manager as a mentor who they could meet with once a week, and who could help and support them and give them advice. This kind of performance support doesn’t need technology infrastructure, but that needs a particular mindset. It needs organizations to acknowledge that to learn, we need to support the ‘20’ and ‘70’ (social and experiential learning). The main question is ‘how are we going to effectively exploit these?”

 8. Use a realistic environment and support environment

“Designing the training environment and ensuring that it links to the real job environment and that it also links to support in the work environment is essential. These are all required to change behavior. And rapidly changed behavior is critical to time-to-competence. Some companies insist on putting their people through training and putting them back in job hoping they will be fully proficient.  To do this is to ‘believe in magic’. It simply rarely happens. In reality, they often go back doing what they were doing before. Harold Stolovitch is absolutely right when he emphasizes that you cannot change people and improve performance without changing the environment.”

 9. Get managers involved in post-training support

“In order to successfully compress time-to-competence, we need to have managers who really understand that they have a huge impact on the way their people perform.

Managers need to understand that they can put people through good training courses, but these people will not become proficient faster unless they (the managers) provide them with the necessary support after they return to the workplace. They need to provide the opportunity to practice; the opportunity to reflect and discuss where things are going well and where things aren’t and focus on those that aren’t going well and fix them.”

“Mary Broad and John Newstrom did some work which showed that if we want to effectively transfer training into the workplace, resulting in improved performance, then the manager has the most influence. Managers must prepare their people for the training – set expectations, understand whether the training is aligned with needs, ensure the right people are attending the training – and then follow up after the training – provide opportunities for practice in the workplace, and ensure that support is provided. To address these issues, any training analysis (or performance analysis) should capture what the manager needs and what success looks like. In other words, the manager needs to be closely involved in the design of any training, ensuring that manager expectations are aligned with trainer expectations, and ensuring that manager expectations are aligned with trainee expectations.”

“At the ‘first step’ of this process, I’ve seen examples where managers are required to attend the last day of the training program. A learner is not put through a training program unless their managers agree that on the last day they will attend for half a day and they will get a full understanding around what the expectations are of the course outcomes and what the expectation is on them, in terms of supporting the transfer of the training into actions.”

“When manager engagement is working well, when the learners come out of the training program their managers understand that they need to follow up, reinforce, provide the opportunity to practice and give the opportunity to reflect. I have no doubt that more you practice, the faster your performance improves. It’s not just any type of practice. We know that performance improves fastest if we practice those activities we are not good at. Simply being given opportunities to work on activities where we are fully competent will not really help improve overall performance. ‘Tough jobs’ was the description of the ‘70’ development activities in the 70:20:10 model. If they are ‘easy jobs’ then it’s unlikely to lead to improvement. If managers provide the opportunity to practice and support and the chance to get help, time–to-proficiency is shortened hugely. It improves the effectiveness, the efficiency or the effectiveness of the training program as well.”

 Final thoughts on compressing time to competence

“The real answer to compressing time-to-competence is that one has to look outside of the training – look at what’s wrapped around it. Think about taking some of the informational content away from the training event and compressing it down is a good start. We also need to make sure that the organization is building a culture of continuous learning. This involves developing new mindsets about how we support learning. We need to make sure that people understand that learning is part of the work and part of their job is to get better every day – to continuously improve. Organizations need to have structures and support to help continuous improvement happen. Senior leaders need to take on a proactive role in championing continuous improvement. Managers need to understand that they have a key role in making it happen.”

Acknowledgments and Credits: Dr. Charles Jennings.  The article can be cited with proper references. All thoughts expressed by Dr. Charles Jennings verbatim. All rights reserved by the author.



Attri, RK (2017), ‘9 Guidelines on 70:20:10 Framework To Accelerate Time To Competence: Powerful Tips From the Founder’, [Blog post], Speed To Proficiency Research: S2PRo©, Available online at <https://www.speedtoproficiency.com/blog/702010-framework-accelerate-time-to-competence/>.

protected for plagiarism

 Image credit Madhushree Kelkar @ Buzzle.com.

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Dr Raman K Attri

Hi!! I am Raman…

I am a performance scientist and a corporate learning leader working, writing, researching and speaking on speeding up learning, performance, expertise, and leadership. Follow me to the world of learning for the accelerated world.

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