Developing High Performing Employees: The 70:20:10 Model

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How do we develop effective leaders and managers? Based upon research, the answer is simple – experience!

McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger concluded that the source of leadership lessons for most managers is:

  • 70% from tough jobs
  • 20% from people (mostly their boss)
  • 10% from courses and reading.

These numbers are meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive so 70% is not a magic number. Rather, it is a guideline. This means the vast majority of our lessons come from doing versus observing or hearing/reading.

You can test this idea by thinking of a significant personal learning experience. Did you achieve this ‘aha’ moment by doing or by being in the classroom? I recently used this knowledge to change an assignment in a class that I am teaching. Rather than having my MBA students write about leadership, I changed the assignment so they had to interview a leader (learning from people). Furthermore they needed to provide that person with a 2,000 word consulting report about their leadership style and opportunities for growth (learning by doing a tough job!). My hope is that we moved away from a style that focused on the 10% to ones that helped encompass the 70% and the 20%. While I cannot quantify the learning difference, some students expressed that it was both enjoyable and difficult to put theory to work.

Charles Jennings, a leading 70:20:10 practitioner, believes we are moving from a know-what to a know-how society. As a result, our information rich environment is often interaction poor. To facilitate growth in our employees we need to counter this trend.

Education is important but the 70:20:10 principles teaches us that we must not rely solely upon formal learning. We must supplement book learning with heavy doses of hard work that provide deep lessons. We need to also surround our employees and future leaders with quality people who will invest in them.

So the next time your star employee asks to attend a workshop, think it over first. Perhaps you simply need to give them the lead on the new project as well as a few lunches with you to discuss how it is going.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger
Jennings, C. (2011). The 70:20:10 Learning Approaches. Retrieved from

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