Since entering the field of professional learning and development, one of the most often muttered phrases I’ve heard is that “when times are tough and budgets are tight, training is always the first thing to go.” It’s time for us to stop saying that. Even though the comment is followed-up by complaints about how foolish that is (by those in L&D, at least), it’s time to pivot from even grudgingly accepting what has become a self-fulling prophecy to a mindset that training is at least as important, if not more, as any other part of the business. There is ample evidence that business clients at least subconsciously understand the value. Below are a few ways we can seize the 70% of the 70:20:10 rule to help clients understand our value.

70:20:10 — the Case for L&D’s Support Strategy

support strategy

It’s clear that business partners more and more understand the need for performance improvement and support measures. For years we’ve been discussing what is often termed the “70:20:10 Rule,” meaning that 70% of all training happens informally on-the-job in activities like: interaction with peers, exposure, and trial and error. 20% of learning is collaborative, based on materials generated by employees on the job. And the remaining 10% is formal learning events and solutions designed or administered through a formal learning and training department, or through vendors. What is often misunderstood is that the 70:20:10 rule is the actual rule and not the exception. It’s already happening, whether we want it to or not.

In his article from June of 2015, Paul Matthews notes that instead of implementing the 70:20:10 rule, corporate L&D departments and business leaders need to understand that it is already happening naturally and that instead and we should instead try to harnesses the output of such a natural process (Matthews, 2016).

Harnessing 70:20:10

The question is — how do we harness the power of the other 90% of learning that goes on in an organization? We first need to realize that strict guidelines, taxonomies, or forced channels may end up frustrating and limiting the informal learning that happens. Many in the L&D world worry about incorrect information being shared, and I would suggest we look at this from a different point of view and coax wrong information into the light so that it can be exposed and corrected.

The 70% and Learning Portals

There are emerging tools, I’ll refer to them as learning portals for now, that can truly facilitate individualized learning paths and are flexible enough to customize those paths at many levels like division, department, team, or even specific employees. Lately I’ve been looking into a couple such applications: Degreed and Pathgather. These tools also allow us to include learning artifacts outside the traditional LMS and intranet content, like professional articles, MOOCs, videos, vendor content, videos, and books. Not only can those content artifacts be included in a path, but these tools allow consumption tracking.learning portal

The 70% and Individual Development

Tools like the ones I mentioned in #2 above can aid in this, but with our without specialized application, Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are another way the L&D team can channel the 70% in a more focused and effective manner. In an article published on, the following are reasons listed to focus on employee development (Experts, 2017):

  • [The obvious] On-the-job skills and performance improvement impact the business’s bottom line.
  • Prepare employees for difficult and adverse situations.
  • Increases self-assessment and therefore self-awareness in employees.
  • Strengthens the relationship between employees and management and employees and the company.
  • Most importantly, it contributes to a learning culture.

In an article on in 2014, Monique Valcour explains the vital role managers play in talent management. She brings home the point that if you’re not focused on developing those on your team, you’re not cut out for leadership in today’s business (Valcour, 2014).

Google identified coaching as the most important behavior that managers need to retain and improve employee engagement and performance (Garvin, 2013).

The 70% and Manager Toolkits

As stated above, the role of good leaders is foundational to the success of employees. We can no longer tolerate bad leadership. But what we in L&D can do is more than another leadership or working styles course — we need to start building tools managers can grab, off the proverbial shelf, and implement with their teams.




While we often worry that our efforts in the 10% portion of the 70:20:10 rule are under-appreciated, we need to seize the opportunity to enrich and strengthen the 70% portion.


Experts, M. (2017). Importance of Employee Development. Retrieved from Management Study Guide:

Garvin, D. (2013, December). How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management. Retrieved from

Matthews, P. (2016, June 21). Another approach to implementing 70:20:10. Retrieved from Training Journal:

SHRM. (2012, May 23). Study: U.S. Job Seekers Want Growth, Professional Development. Retrieved from Society for Human Resource Management:

Valcour, M. (2014, January 23). If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: