Career experiences have helped shape all of us into who we are. We carry them wherever we go, and they are woven into of our “work DNA”.  Whether the experience was instituted by chance or by design, learning has occurred and impacted our development, performance, and potential. Experiences are powerful, and thus, being more intentional with them presents a tremendous opportunity for organizations to strengthen their development approach.

In the Center for Creative Leadership’s “Lessons of Experience” research, Eichinger and Lombardo discovered the 70/20/10 rule. This rule claims that successful executives benefit from three types of experiences using a 70/20/10 ratio:

  • 70%: Challenging Assignments (e.g., stretch assignments or projects, new initiatives, expansion of current role scope, problem resolution, etc.)
  • 20%: Developmental Relationships (e.g., networking, communities of practice, team or partnering relationships, coaching/mentoring, etc.)
  • 10%: Coursework/Training (e.g., workshops, self-study, self-awareness, etc.)

In our work with organizations, we see the outcomes of this rule when it is applied. The greatest results in true behavior change and development come from the intentional application and integration of all three of these methods. In addition, we’ve seen it applied successfully beyond “executive” or “leadership” development into general team member development.  Unfortunately though, even with proven results the approach using the 70/20/10 rule isn’t yet the norm.

Many companies remain channeled and think of development as being synonymous with training.  While training is important as a foundation— and when done well provides an amplifier effect to the other 90%— training alone is not sufficient. In order to achieve growth in performance and potential, all three types of learning must be considered.

With this in mind, the question for companies and leaders is this: How are we designing our development to achieve the best outcomes for our people and our organizations?

Development by design starts with strategy and talent needs. If we are going to achieve X, who will be called upon to act? What outcomes will they be expected to deliver? What mindsets, perspectives, skill sets, and experiences will our people and leaders need to be successful? The answers to these questions identify current gaps to inform the types of learning needed. Asking these questions also helps discern what is important for all team members, for certain groups, and specifically, for leadership development.

Consider a firm trying to expand its presence within an industry. Challenge assignments for a team member might include exposing them to a unique client project or taking on responsibilities to teach other team members. Developmental relationships for the same team member might be a mentoring relationship with a veteran in the industry or developing specific relationships with a new client. In contrast, a Stretch assignment for an emerging leader might be developing a new service or leading a service area for the industry. Relational learning for that emerging leader might be networking with others in the industry and relationship building with key influencers in the firm outside of the leader’s functional area.

To design more effective learning in your organization:

  1. Identify the development experiences your team members need by thinking about what types of learning need to occur (i.e., dealing with adversity, understanding failure, working with a diverse team, handling complex decisions, developing others, leading change, etc.).
  2. Develop training content to lay the foundation for development, aligning it to the level of learning needed
  3. Define the situations or key experiences (i.e., challenge assignments) that will promote the learning identified in #1 and supplement the training, and as needed, map these to career paths or milestones in your organization
  4. Integrate the learning experiences into your individual development planning, coaching, and mentoring by matching them to the right people at the right times in their development (developmental relationships)
  5. Review your individual development planning to see how effectively you have achieved the 70/20/10 ratio for each person    

Without being proactive and intentional with experiences, organizations are not only leaving an opportunity on the table, they are leaving a large part of their investment in talent to chance. Don’t leave it to chance in your department, office, or firm. Apply development by design and increase your odds of success.