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Improving On-boarding Using 70:20:10

On-boarding and induction programs are historically fertile ground for structured learning. They have always been seen as essential elements in helping new employees become rapidly productive.

Yet even this ‘sacred cow’ of formal training is being challenged with some companies updating on-boarding processes to utilise broader approaches, including 70:20:10.

There are a number of reasons why many organisations adopting the 70:20:10 framework focus on their on-boarding process as a key priority or opportunity for improvement:

  • High staff turnover during the on-boarding process
  • Speed to productivity expectations not being met
  • Resource intensive and classroom based programs recognised as costly and inefficient.

As one alternative to hours or days of classroom induction, some organisations are providing new recruits with tablets stuffed with helpful information and access to resources such as:

  • links to expert locations on intranets
  • links to repositories of stories to help new employees navigate the networks and alcoves of their new organisation or new role within their existing organisation
  • colleagues and regular check ins that allow them to review progress, make sense of their new environment and remove obstacles.

This approach may not remove the need for face-to-face or structured on-boarding tasks. It does however, place the worker in their working environment sooner, giving them exposure to the tasks, the people and the resources required to perform their role.

Any revised approach to on-boarding needs to be encapsulated within a clear strategy that encourages and supports the development of a culture of continuous learning.

Concepts, Contexts and Tasks

One way of thinking about the weighting of structured training against workplace and social approaches for on-boarding is to consider what is needed to help someone get up-to-speed in their new role. This is where the 70:20:10 framework helps.

We can think of three aspects[1] of building capability.

1. The Concepts - answers to questions such as:

  • What is expected of me in this role?
  • How can I go about finding the best sources of information to help me?
  • What are the core organisational principles I need to apply in my work?

2. The Context – answers to questions such as:

  • What processes does someone in my role need to follow?
  • How do I escalate problems if I can’t fix them?
  • Who do I escalate to in specific instances?

3. The Tasks – answers to questions such as:

  • What are the detailed steps to assemble this device/construct this spreadsheet model/help this client?
  • I have an uncommon situation – what do I do next?

The diagram above (© Charles Jennings, used with permission), adapted from the original, shows that the ‘concept’ issues can be addressed through training if needed, but most of the ‘context’ issues and all of the ‘task’ issues are better addressed through use of personal networks, mentors, and performance support at the point-of-need. The breakdown here is roughly 10:90, or 10:20:70 – in other words, the 70:20:10 can be applied even within an on-boarding construct.

The Bigger Picture: Beyond Content-Centric Learning

As we move beyond content-rich learning to exploit experience-rich learning in the workplace, we need solid models and approaches that will help, and we need tools that will help us support a culture of continuous learning. This is where many organisations are finding the 70:20:10 model useful.

If you’re exploring or implementing 70:20:10 you should consider on-boarding for its potential:

  • To deliver impact and savings through improved speed to productivity, flexible delivery and improved retention,
  • As an opportunity to pilot the approach to gain experience, gather data and stories, and build advocacy that will support your business case for an expanded roll out.

Are you reviewing your on-boarding process or have you taken steps to improve the design? If so, share your journey, including the challenges you faced, the solutions you created and the impact you achieved.  

[1] The core of this model was developed by people working in a specialist performance support company in 2006.

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Andrew - 

This is a great, insightful post! We have come to similar conclusions around onboarding in our work with a number of financial services clients who take on large annual graduate cohorts. Onboarding grads - who are likely entering the world of work for the first time - is of course a separate challenge to more generally making sure that new hires become productive within the new organisation as soon as possible.

Within a graduate community a 70:20:10 model arguably makes even more sense - the graduate program members are a ready-built community ideal for learn from one another socially, building practical skills through informal learning experiences, and developing their own key knowledge levels wherever they might be.

We recently published an infographic which gathers together our thoughts in this area and presents tips and best practices for implementing a 70:20:10 grads onboarding model. I'm sure you'll find a lot of your thinking echoed there - take a look:

Onboard... not Overboard!

Thanks for sharing Charles,

This is a really useful infographic. I very much agree with your points around leveraging graduates as a cohort and community. Getting them to share their work, their experiences, their observations and questions/problems with each other is a really genuine and exciting way to engage and support them. This approach also means they immediately have a learning and support network. Given their familiarity with technology, it makes sense to connect them physically where possible and virtually, with support from sponsors/mentors. 

A key point the infographic made was to start engaging them before they start work. I think this is often missed as an opportunity to introduce them to information, stories and resources that build excitement and interest before they start work.

The origin of this post was one of Charles Jennings' blogs, but given the importance of the onboarding process and the fact that many people implementing 70:20:10 seek to start with selected pilot and quick win solutions, we wanted to reposition it.

The link below is an example from Jane Bozarth of how organisations can start to engage new workers before they start work. I like the simplicity and the personal nature of this example; new workers are being connected with people and places before they've even seen them:

Your first Day

It also gets you thinking about what other resources, information, links etc. can be provided in a simple and accessible format to make it easy for new workers to access knowlegde and find help when they need it.



Thanks, Charles. The Brightwave 'Onboard, not Overboard' infographic addresses the 'why?', the 'what?' and the 'how?' of effective onboarding clearly.  The eight 'Golden Rules' provide excellent guidance! 

I am particularly interested in this article Andrew as we are about to review our induction or on-boarding process and I'm keen to determine how we can use the 70:20:10 approach in this review. As we are a large public vocational training provider (North Coast TAFE, NSW, Australia) we have new staff commencing on any given day in any given week and rolling commencements seem to lend themselves to a self-directed online on-boarding process. We currently use a mix of new technologies eg moodle platforms, and old paper based checklists. Both serve their purpose but we all agree it is time for a review and overhaul! Breaking down the on-boarding aspects into 'concept', 'context' and 'task' particularly resonates as did Charles Gould's reponse which included the do's and don'ts for new graduates at Brightwave in the UK.

We had thought we would start by re-examing our current process and it appears to fall into four areas: accountability (who manages the process, who delivers the process); compliance (audit requirements; Working with Children checks); technology (what platforms will be used, where will resources be stored); and internal communication (cultural changes, marketing and promotion). I'll now be able to take the 70:20:10 thinking to the working group where we can hopefully marry these four areas to the concept,context and task aspects. I will post more comments along the way.

Thanks Cath,

In a previous role/company we developed a simple tool we called an IPOP - Induction Plan on a Page. The document was a template that could easily be adapted to suit the needs of the role to be inducted.

The tool was structured around first day, first week, first month, first three months and listed the key things new workers needed to see, do, read, discuss etc. It told them the 'what' rather than the 'how'. The aim was to provide a simple structure that would allow the new worker to feel supported (i.e. make onboarding intentional), to extend onboarding across a period of months and to help line leaders do a better job of supporting their new team members. It was really about helping people to have the right conversations and making space and time to reflect on the onboarding experience.

The tool was used by both the line leader and the new worker, with regular one on one discussions/debriefs to monitor progress, to define and confirm next steps (the 'how') and to create opportunities to answer questions, respond to concerns etc. New tasks/activities could be captured, and activities could be crossed off to confirm completion.

At the end of three months, the tool was signed off and any outstanding activities were transferred to the worker's development plan.

A generic example for an Operations Management role is detailed below:

The simplicity of the tool and the flexibility of the approach were what line leaders valued the most. New workers also reported a feeling of being supported as the IPOP gave them a path and a support structure. Although at the time we used a paper form, it would be easy to create an electronic version, that included links to resources, tracked activities and captured journal entries/debriefs etc.