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Written by: Alex Andrews

There are numerous parallels in life that can be drawn from sports, but have you ever considered your training and development program to be like a football game? Neither have I – until now.

Growing up I loved the game of football (the American gridiron type). I can remember watching my first game with my father and thinking how big, fast, and absolutely amazing those players were. I did not have a clue what was going on, but I was captivated.

Fast forward six years from that first game and I found myself playing in the Peewee league. As a big 11 year old, I was automatically put on defense and told to just get the ball. So I did. I slowly matured, became more and more skilled, and soon realized I was somewhat good at the game. I finished high school and had the opportunity to continue playing in university, but there was something in my way. After attending my first spring camp, I was demoralized, players half my size were knocking me over with ease and players twice my size, who I knew I was faster than, were chasing me down from behind. In that moment I felt like a child playing with adults.  

It was then, in my humbled and somewhat humiliated state, I was taught a lesson. Not all athletic ability is learned on the field, though that was a vital component, but there was a science to the game that is practically only learned in a classroom analyzing game film. I can vividly recall thinking what a waste of time it was to spend two hours of my day watching film of a game we singlehandedly won, or of a drill we did in practice over-and-over again. However, it was not long until reality hit me – my own athletic abilities that had gotten me to to that point were not enough. Until then, I had relied almost entirely on my own talent and neglected the powerful learning that comes from a structured setting reviewing scenarios of right and wrong actions.

In retrospect, watching film, sitting with my coach to discuss my strengths and weaknesses, and then applying those on the field are where I first learned how to develop a learning culture and program that gets the teaching to stick. In football, the data shows that the best teams do not simply focus on experiential, on the field, training, nor do they solely spend days in the classroom, only watching film and discussing the theory of the game. Real progress comes from a blended learning model. There is a three pronged approach which includes on the field practice, coaching and mentoring off the field, and studying the game as a team in a classroom setting.

To contrast this with corporate training, traditional wisdom says that people join the company of their dreams, get excited about motivational induction training, do a bit of work in the company, go back for more training, go back to do some more work, and then repeat this cycle throughout their careers getting better and better at what they do. However, that’s not actually how it works. A learning and development model which is generally accepted as being true is known as the 70:20:10 model. 

Though this model is originally credited to Morgan W. McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, while at the Center for Creative Leadership, Lombardo and Eichinger later released a study where they observed high-performing managers learned best with a blended approach. They later published in their book, The Career Architect Development Planner, that learning and development success comes from about 70% on-the-job experience, working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback and working around good and bad examples; and 10% from courses and reading. 

Here’s the correlation to the game I love:

70% On the Field (or in the Office)

An essential element of our learning and development comes through experience. We need to play the game and be with others. We go to work, associate with others and learn from doing. Lombardo and Eichinger tell us that literally 70% of what it takes to learn how to do our job comes from actually being on the job. So, it is about experience and practice. If you do not practice, you forget. Even if there is practice in a course, the 70%, or the somewhat informal learning, comes from putting the theory into practice. So what this means is that we need to develop, measure, and then fine tune over-and-over again the work environment. Going to HR or an outside consultant for training is not always the right thing to do. Certainly it should never be the only thing to do. Look at the job and determine what training can be done on a day-to-day basis. In other words, give meaningful tasks and make situations where employees can practice, fail, and practice again.

20% Coaching (or Feedback)

Once on the field, it is critical to coach and give feedback frequently. About 20% of learning comes from some sort of structured mentoring or knowledge transfer space. This can be in the form of a formal mentorship program, or structured feedback from a manager. Once somebody is identified as a teacher and somebody as a learner, whether this is a boss to direct report or not, there needs to be a more concerted effort to providing two-way constructive feedback in a timely and frequent manner. This 20% is learned by sharing.

10% Game Film (or Classroom Instruction)

The last 10% then comes from game film – learning the theory, seeing examples of what to do and what not to do. This can be one-to-one, or one-to-many training and instruction. However, just pushing content at people will not work. So when considering the method and type of training, think about giving employees the right content, at the right speed, at the right place, to the right team, in the right format. Content and structure that makes sense to their working situation and actually allows them to then take it back and apply it to the other 70% of learning, where they can practice and be successful at what you want them to learn. 

Before starting any training program, answer these two questions – what is the business problem we need to solve? And how can it be solved using a mixture of both formal and informal learning? Then let that guide your decisions.

Effective training and development comes from creating a learning support mechanism in the workplace rather than just learning itself. The 70:20:10 model can help solve business problems because a lot of the learning can take place within the day-to-day business and you do not have to take people away from their roles in order to learn, which can be expensive and time consuming. Perhaps the problem can be solved by a simple job aid, or by some coaching or by a staff meeting. Though this model is not a one-size-fits-all recipe, it is a guide that focuses on multiple touch points where learning is reinforced.  

Finally, please do not misunderstand; classroom or online training is tremendously valuable, it must, however, be designed and built as part of this unified approach. The ratios can vary a bit, but the point is that 90% of learning occurs on the field, outside the film room, or beyond the PC.

Source quoted: Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger. p. iv.

Alex is an HR Business Advisor for Rocky Mountain Equipment, one of Canada's largest agricultural and construction equipment dealers. He is responsible for providing strategic and operational HR support and implementation of all HR programs. Alex also serves as Executive Vice President for the N. Eldon Tanner Management Society, a non-profit focused on promoting ethical leadership and is a Team Lead and contributing member of the CPHR Alberta Editorial Committee.