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Perry Timms: “Formal training can be a very blunt instrument”


Ahead of his slot at next week's HRD conference, Perry Timms takes us through his version of 70:20:10.
Say the words 'workplace learning' or 'workplace training' to someone who is not an HR or learning and development professional, and the chances are they will immediately think of a conference, an external training day, or a classroom-based course. They are likely to think of something separate from the normal working day, conducted formally, almost in an adult version of school. I would argue that this is a big problem: formal, discrete learning programmes are the exact opposite of what organisations need.
There are many things to recommend traditional training courses and conferences. The speakers may be excellent, the opportunity to have a day away from the office may keep staff motivated. However, there are also several problems with the model.
Formal training can be a very blunt instrument. Because many people are trained together, the training may not arrive at the right time for the needs of an individual's job; some individuals can use the fact that they haven't been on a specific course as an excuse for lazy practice; attendees may already know most of a course's content, meaning that time is wasted re-teaching already-learned information, and at worst people may switch off and miss the minority of new information the course contains.
This isn't to say that all classroom-based learning should be scrapped. Instead, we should recognise that learning is a much wider thing than people suppose. Learning happens all the time. You could pick up a vital piece of information at any point, from researching it on the internet to being told it by a colleague in a lift. If a company is to train its staff well, it should have a learning policy that exploits the full width of learning opportunities.
"There are many things to recommend traditional training courses and conferences. The speakers may be excellent, the opportunity to have a day away from the office may keep staff motivated. However, there are also several problems with the model."
I work at the Big Lottery Fund, the organisation which distributes money raised by the National Lottery. Recently, I headed a project to redesign the way that all staff in the organisation learn and train.
Firstly, training in our organisation had been split into two streams – training for the specific job the majority of our employees do, and more generic training such as leadership, negotiation and presentation skills. Our first act was to ensure that responsibility for both of these sat in the same place – you can't build an over-arching policy if you're only allowed to make half an arch.
Secondly, we also ensured that L&D professionals from our organisation were involved in every aspect of training content creation, ensuring that all learning experiences were as relevant as possible, and that no time was wasted.
Thirdly, we worked to instil a coaching culture in the organisation. We did this partly by giving all of our line managers coaching training, aimed at teaching them to help develop their employees. We also created a coaching network – a group of skilled people who anyone could turn to for information and training on various topics, regardless of what part of the business they worked in. Finally, we set up regular training sessions, often held at lunchtime, when experts from various parts of the business would give seminars and answer questions. Put together, this meant that if any of our employees needed training or information, it was more likely to be close at hand, and they were less likely to have to wait until the next big external training session to learn it.
However, coaching alone is not enough. We have begun to work on a series of downloadable guides, giving employees access to essential information at any time.
We still have external trainers and courses, but rather than being the centre of the programme, this is just part of the mix.
I often see this kind of sentiment explained as a 70:20:10 split. What I understand the 10% to mean is where a learning need is effectively delivered through formal, course-based programmes. The 20% is where the learning need is effectively serviced by coaching or mentoring and the 70% is where learning occurs on the job.
While this model seems sensible to me, I have a slight advancement:
In simple terms, I'm keen on this model because it emphasises that the small minority of learning should be traditional and classroom-based; a larger minority should be discrete training that people undertake at work; but the vast majority takes place as people do their job. One important thing to say about the 'we-learning' facet is that this is where social media fits in – organisations should aim to integrate learning into tools such as Skype, Twitter, wikis or games in such a way that it fits in with the normal working day, rather than becomes another separate, 'me-learning' or 'us-learning' aspect – and this is arguably one of the most exciting developments in HR at the current time.
Still – whatever the tools that are used, the most important message is that learning is not a separate thing. People can be in need of knowledge or training at any point – not just when they are due to complete a course, which is why the 70:20:10 distinction is useful. Likewise, learning takes place all the time – and the best learning programmes make use of this.
Perry Timms is head of talent and OD at the Big Lottery Fund and a regular speaker for the CIPD, ITOL and at a range of talent development events. You can follow Perry on Twitter @PerryTimms. Perry will be speaking at the CIPD's HRD conference between April 25 and 26.

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