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70:20:10 - The Role of Managers in Development

The business case for managers playing an effective role in the development of their direct reports is clear and simple: the direct reports of managers who are most effective at development activities outperform those with ineffective managers by as much as 25-27%.

An important research survey across a number of global organisations that was carried out by the Learning & Development Roundtable (part of the Corporate Executive Board) produced results that showed that teams reporting to managers who are effective and focused on supporting their development deliver this level of performance uplift.

Another way of thinking of this is that those people who report to managers who play an effective role in development provide at least an extra day’s work each week, every week at no cost to the individuals or to the organisation.  What manager or CEO would not want that?

In addition to improving performance, effective employee development produces a host of other compelling benefits; employees are more satisfied, more committed to the organisation, more likely to stay with their employers, and more adaptable to change when their managers are effective at employee development.

The Research

The data was gathered with two survey instruments that were part of the Learning and Development Roundtable’s 2003 Employee Development Survey. In total, nearly 13,500 employees and managers from 14 distinct organisations were surveyed, and completed responses were received from 6,889 of them (a 51%response rate).

Employees and managers came from a range of organisations (14), industries (six), and countries (nine). Through appropriate weighting, the final sample and subsequent analyses are not dominated by any one organisation.

Working closely with each organisation that participated in the study, a random sample of managers across each organisation was developed. For each manager included in the sample, an employee was sampled at random from the manager’s list of direct reports. Both the manager and the employee (“the matched pair”) were invited to participate in the study. About 42% or 2,773 matched pairs completed the survey.

Data was collected from more than 180 executives, 650 senior managers, 1,400 mid-level managers, and more than 2,400 first-line managers.

More than 37% of the individuals who participated in the survey as “employees” (more than 1,400 people) were managers themselves, either first-line managers or above.

Further analysis of the data showed the following:

Employee Retention

Manager B (focused and effective at developing employees) has direct reports who are almost 40% more likely to stay with the organisation and who report almost 40% higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Employee Adaptability

Manager B (focused and effective at developing employees) has direct reports that are almost 30% more committed to the organisation and 8% better at responding to change.

Relevance to 70:20:10

Line managers play an important role in 70:20:10 implementation. The ‘70’ and ‘20’ development activities rely on support and often on direction from line managers.

One of the key focus areas for 70:20:10 should be on developing managers’ capabilities to support the development of their reports. Without a reasonable bench-strength in this area a comprehensive 70:20:10 strategy will prove almost impossible.

This research goes on to show that placing greater emphasis on a few of the more powerful development activities, managers can increase the performance of their direct reports without significantly investing more time.

Key Take-Aways

  • Building workforce capability relies on line managers becoming successful people developers as well as process managers.
  • The manager’s role in employee development impacts employees’ success, team’s success, and ultimately manager success.
  • Managers who are effective at employee development will both enhance their team’s performance and deliver a number of other benefits to the organisation.


Learning and Development Roundtable. 2004. ‘Driving Results Through Employee Development: Understanding Your Role as a Manager’, Corporate Executive Board.

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I completely agree with this! 

I have been trialling an email to managers to remind them that:

1) their team member has just returned from training and 

2) that their role is key in the overall effectiveness of the learning transfer .  

In this email I provide some practical tips to help ensure their investment in developing their team member provides returns to their team and the organisation.

So far this has been received positively by managers. 

There is a large gap in this area, Managers not understanding or not having the “development’ mindset. This has a long term negative impact on teams and individuals which generally results in disengagement, slow to change and adaptability, leaving jobs.

There are a few key points that come to mind when developing / shifting a manager towards building capability in their team.

  • Buy in: This need to come from the Top – Down. (Many times I have seen this come from down, side – up and it has a less or no success rate). Line managers need to be address on why building team capability is important and how the business and their team can benefit from this.


  • Coaching: Managers need to be coached and guided in this process by capability professionals.


  • Ownership: Managers need to have this set as a KPI in their performance plan. Again, many times I have seen this overlooked and it fails after a few months.


  • Calendar (Plan): Managers need to develop a full year plan of attack. This will keep them on track and also creates visibility for the team to know what is happening.


  • Progress meetings: Managers should have this locked in as part of their calendar plan to follow up with team members on their development progress.


This is very much a behavioural change which needs to be consistently supported. Managers need to understand the importance of their engagement to capability development in their team and how they can support it.

I’m just about to develop my 2017/2018 performance development and action plan as a unit lead and have been thinking about how this should be achieved. The main driver over the next 12 months is what am I going to do to develop other direct report managers to become effective performance development managers/supervisors. So I’m looking at placing greater emphasis on a few powerful development activities that gain the greatest ‘performance uplift’.

To do this I’ve posed the following:

What’s our key performance challenge?
Working smarter and building capability – and how could 70:20:10 and the role of managers support this development. Well here are a few ideas I will be exploring. Supporting line managers/supervisors to:

  • staying in touch with staff, beyond just the operations of their role, explore what they need to learn to achieve and provide them with opportunities to learn doing work activities. Shifting the responsibility from me as the senior manager to engage with staff, their learning and work activities, to their line managers.
  • shifting from one formal plan to using PDPs to develop agile work/micro project  plans that meet an immediate performance or business solution – taking small significant and impactful steps, show casing the wins and then moving to the next
  • use storytelling to impart what they know/ learned/experienced  – using reflection to support the development of performance
  • giving ownership and responsibility to all staff in relation to effective team performance – contributing by all the sum of the whole.

The most enticing point in this article is the growth of performance improvement through effective manager development - a development imperative for organisations, managers and employees facing rapid complex change, the need to work smarter and switch tasks faster while adapting and learning at a speed which is just ahead of needing to perform the job!