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Improving the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Formal Development


The role of formal development is often debated by those exploring the 70:20:10 model.

The framework has sometimes been criticised as seeking to ‘downplay’ or remove formal development altogether. This is most certainly not the case. Formal development has an important role to play but, as with any performance solution, the specific context will determine the right balance of experience, exposure and education.

This checklist has been designed to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of formal development activities.

Breaking the ‘Richness/Reach Trade-Off’

The ‘richness versus reach trade-off ’(1) was the traditional challenge posed with formal development. Face-to face-events offered richness at the expense of reach and vice versa. The advent of technology has bridged this gap, allowing us to achieve both richness and reach.

Fig 1. The Richness versus Reach Trade-off

The challenge has now extended to the need to support individuals who need to solve complex problems in an environment of constant change.

Research on ‘Building High Performance Capability for the New Work Environment’ (Corporate Executive Board 2012) recognises that matrix structures and virtual networks inside and outside the organisation are becoming the norm. The research also reports that further improvements to existing formal training solutions are likely to yield only limited results:

 ‘Continuing to invest in standard improvements based on yesterday’s work environment will not yield breakthrough performance for the new work environment’.

In simple terms, the research reinforces that ‘what got us here won’t get us there’. We need to adapt our approaches if we are to be successful.

This transition reflects the significantly changing landscape of learning and the associated shift towards enabling people to learn and perform in the workplace at the speed of business.

© 2013  70:20:10 Forum Pty Ltd
Fig 2. The Changing Landscape of Learning

Refocusing Formal Development within the 70:20:10

Within the 70:20:10 framework we should consider formal development as being re-focused or re-balanced, ensuring it serves as an enabler of further workplace learning.

Effective formal development solutions must support continuous learning by providing a foundation for just-in-time, ongoing learning, and for learning through cooperation and collaboration.

In making this transition it is important to look at current formal development activities with fresh eyes as there may be waste in our current solutions. Likewise, there may be opportunities to remove, reduce or realign our formal development solutions to support the performance outcomes we wish to achieve.

Although the primary purpose of this approach is to ensure we provide responsive performance solutions with impact, flexibility and reach, there is no doubt that a review of formal development solutions is likely to provide significant cost savings, which may be used to offset any investments you may wish to make in building capabilities or resourcing other elements of your 70:20:10 strategy.


1. Phillip Evans & Thomas Wurster explain the wider aspects of the richness/reach trade-off in their 1999 best-selling book ‘Blown To Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Society’ (Harvard Business School Press)

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1 comment

Getting people to change their way of thinking about formal development is not an easy task.  For years people in the workplace have thought that you were only “trained or learned” when you had attended formal training.  In the 1980s there was a change in thinking that people needed a degree to be able to do a job and, on the job training and learning e.g. apprenticeships, were not as illustrious.  (Apprenticeships have followed a similar training path to 70:20:10 for many years with mostly on the job training, learning from others on the job and a short block of formal training.)

A classic example of this is when nursing education in the 1980’s went from predominantly public hospital-based with an apprenticeship style system to being conducted in a tertiary setting with practical clinical experience components. This change was made to improve the nurses’ ability to assume greater responsibility for many of the new technical procedures and the changes in the complexity of health care delivery.

Registration as a registered nurse now requires a Bachelor of Nursing.  With this change graduates report that “experiences in the universities simulated laboratory environment does not accurately reflect the complexities, challenges, emotions and conflicts that are the reality of the clinical environment” (School of Nursing & Midwifery, University of Tasmania). This is an example of the need for experiential and social learning to form part of the formal learning. Some things you can’t learn from a book or obtaining knowledge at a desk.

Our departments’ employee engagement survey results showed that staff don’t think they are getting enough training. One school of thought is that they don’t recognise what training could/should involve, especially their access to experiential and social learning in their teams and with their managers.

One of the main challenges within this department is that staff tend to think that training is made up of formal training only. Turning up to a classroom and learning, not necessarily learning on the job.  One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the work in our department is legislatively driven and this has led to people believing that you can only learn these things in formal surroundings.

Another must have is that lawyers need to continually upgrade their education as part of their professional development. Lawyers do this by attending training not by sharing or on the job learning, even though they would do this on a daily basis. Fundamentally the thinking of executives has to change first to showcase and communicate how experiential and social activities, as well as formal, can be useful components of a professional development program.

As a department we are focussing on changing the way people think about training. We are upskilling the L&D staff to make the formal training more specific and include how to share and use the learning in the workplace.  The L&D staff need to understand why changing their formal training to be more efficient and effective is important and how this will lead to both cost effectiveness and better outcomes in the workplace, and ultimately better service to our clients.