Sunday, 3 January 2016

From Courses to Campaigns : using the 70:20:10 approach

imageOne of the major strategic objectives for many HR and L&D departments in 2016 and beyond will be to extend their focus and services beyond courses and out into the workplace.

There are many reasons why this objective makes good sense.

Firstly, we know that learning is a powerful and continuous process that occurs daily at work and throughout life. Courses may help with the basics, or to refresh our knowledge, but courses alone won’t deliver high performance. Other activities in the workplace – such as challenging experiences, opportunities to practice in ‘real’ situations, support, advice and guidance from colleagues, and reflection, are all more important than courses in helping do that. If we put all our effort and resource only into designing, developing and delivering courses we may be helping people to some extent, but we’re only supporting one aspect of organisational learning and performance improvement.

Secondly, we also know that context is vital for effective learning. Learning is more powerful and more likely to result in behaviour change when the learning context and the working context are identical. In other words, results are improved when ‘work is learning and learning is the work’ as Harold Jarche has pointed out many times. We almost invariable learn best by ‘doing’ in the context of our work. The next best option is where the learning context very closely represents the work environment where new capabilities are to be applied. That’s why there is such huge investment in immersive simulators for training by the military, the aviation industry, the nuclear industry, for space programmes, and an increasing number of other industries. It’s cheaper and more practical to learn how drive a tank, land an aircraft or space vehicle, or manage a nuclear power plant safely in a simulator than risk the cost and damage of making errors in the real thing.

Thirdly, learning is invariably more impactful when we solve real problems and find real solutions ourselves. Business education has understood this fact for years, but rather than designing ways that allow experienced business school professors to support and mentor managers to solve their own real problems in their own context, most use a proxy called the case method. The Harvard case-study method was designed to allow emerging leaders opportunities to develop through the analysis of real organisations’ real problems. A good idea, but not the students’ own organisations or their organisations’ own problems. The resulting point of failure with the case method is that it often leads to superficial analysis with little or no understanding of the deeper, personal context. Henry Mintzberg of McGill University, and a renowned academic and author on business and management, has been challenging the ‘proxy’ learning via the case method for many years:

“The most obvious example, I think, of where it goes wrong is in the case-study method: give me 20 pages and an evening to think about it and I'll give you the decision tomorrow morning. It trains people to provide the most superficial response to problems, over and over again getting the data in a nice, neat, packaged form and then making decisions on that basis. It encourages managers to be disconnected from the people they're managing”1.

Looking across the entire landscape of organisational learning and development, we see similar proxies to the case method being used. Virtually all of them are wrapped up in an ‘event’ concept – often called the course, workshop, programme (or program), module etc. They are constructs which are based on the concept that experts are best placed to tell people what they need to learn, how they need to learn it and when they need to learn it2

Jane Hart in her recent article 2016: Rethinking workplace learning points out that this approach is really ‘workplace training’, and that although it may help, it is only one (small) part of the larger process of workplace learning. Another term for ‘workplace training’ is adding learning to work. Adding learning to work is only one way learning and work can be integrated. Adding learning to work is still learning focused (which makes it an obvious first step for L&D professionals). Adding learning is certainly better that removing learning entirely from work, but it is only one step towards integrated learning and working.

Beyond the ‘adding’ step there are others; embedding learning in work (through approaches such as performance support, checklists, FAQs and many other methods); extracting learning from work (through reflection, learning logs, work narration, personal micro-blogging and many other methods); and sharing learning with work colleagues (through ‘working out loud’, ‘showing your work’ – see Jane Bozarth’s great book of the same name, storytelling, team reviews and many other methods).


In her article Jane Hart also hits on one of the major change factors necessary to enable the objective of extending learning beyond the course and into daily workflow – the right mindset.

Beyond the Course Mindset

The ‘course mindset’ is a sometimes a difficult one to cast off. The default solution (a course or programme) to address human performance problems is deeply embedded in most HR and learning professionals’ psyche and also our own development experiences. We’ve all been through courses at school and college, on programmes at university and in our workplace. Why should there be better ways?

There often are better ways. But they require a different way of thinking in order to define the best solutions, and different approaches to implement them. This is why it is better to approach performance challenges with a campaign mindset than a course mindset.

  • In the course mindset, the output is seen as ‘learning’. In the campaign mindset, the output is improved performance – organisational performance, team performance, and individual performance.
  • In the course mindset, we start with an analysis of the training need. In the campaign mindset we start by understanding the business or organisational problem, the associated performance problems and the root causes of each.
  • In the course mindset we then undertake course design. In the campaign mindset we then analyse the problems, identify the desired changes and identify potential ‘70’, ‘20’ and ‘10’ solutions.
  • In the course mindset we develop our solution for individuals and, sometimes, for teams. In the campaign mindset we develop solutions with organisational performance in mind.
  • In the course mindset we focus on aligning learning with work. In the campaign mindset we work to embed learning in work, and enhance extracting and sharing learning from work as well.
  • In the course mindset, we’re principally input focused. In the campaign mindset, we’re absolutely output focused.

Finally, in the course mindset we tend to only produce ‘10’ solutions. These are structured learning solutions that sits within the ‘10’ part of the 70:20:10 model. In the campaign mindset, we produce ‘100’ solutions. These are solutions that draw on the ‘70’, ‘20’ and the ‘10’ aspects of 70:20:10.

My previous article ‘Start with the 70. Plan for the 100’ explains why the ‘70’ and ‘20’ aspects are likely to provide the greatest value. That’s where HR and L&D departments need to be focusing if they’re to extend their focus and services beyond courses and out into the workplace and therefore increase the impact of their work.

My friend Lars Hyland has also written about moving from courses to campaigns.  An article by Lars in 2009, titled ‘Get Real: Mission Critical E-Learning’, published in the UK Learning Technologies magazine, stressed the need for ‘joined-up’ working between the typically disconnected internal functions of Internal Communications, Training, and Performance Management. In that article Lars stressed  the following point: “Thinking end to end means adopting "campaign" rather than "course" led programmes designed to effect real changes in attitudes, behaviour and performance” as part of his AGILE approach. This is very much in line with the approach I am recommending here. 

Tools to Get There

The recent book by Arets, Jennings and Heijnan ‘70:20:10 towards 100% performance’ explains in detail how organisations can make this move from courses to campaigns by using the 70:20:10 approach, and architect effective solutions with the ‘100’ in mind.

In this book we’ve defined a new set of roles that need to be fulfilled and tasks that need to be completed to make the change. Each of the roles is focused on outputs – performance - and the tasks are, in many cases, very different to the tasks carried out in most L&D departments today. In fact, some of the roles and tasks are not specifically linked to L&D and may (or will) sit in other parts of the organisation.

We’ve also designed and are launching an Expert Programme to help organisations exploit the 70:20:10 approach more effectively. Details of the programme are here together with downloadable brochure with details and feedback from previous participants. The programme will be launched globally early in 2016.


Roles in the new world of 70:20:10


1 The Economist: An interview with Henry Mintzberg

2. Jane Hart 2016: Rethinking workplace learning