Building Capability with the 70:20:10 Framework

by Charles Jennings

When we stop to think about it, the performance of any organisation depends above everything else on the capability and creativity of its people.

In whichever industry or sector you may work, the old saying that ‘your people are your greatest asset’ is truer today than ever before. This is borne out by evidence of the increasing importance of ‘intangible assets’ in organisations across the world.

‘Intangible assets’ comprise the knowledge in the heads of people and the capability in their actions, together with the IP (intellectual property), goodwill and ‘brand value’ they create.


“70:20:10, above all else, helps us think ‘capability and
performance’ rather than ‘learning’ as the end point.”


In 1975 only 17 per cent of the total value of the S&P 500 (the largest 500 US enterprises quoted on either the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ) was ‘intangible’. By 2009 the intangible value of the S&P 500 had leapt to 81per cent. This ‘flip’ in the importance of intangibles is being reflected across the world. More and more government and commercial organisations are finding that their intangible value (primarily their people) has become the critical determinant of organisational success or failure.

It doesn’t matter whether your industry is technology-driven, service-centric, or product focused, the capability of your people is your most important asset. Once we appreciate this fact, the need to build capability becomes an obvious priority. That’s why organisations are increasingly looking at ways they can support learning and development in new and more effective ways. They focus on learning for one very practical reason - to build capability. Increased capability leads to greater intangible value, which in turn leads to success.


A new approach is being adopted by many organisations around the world, including government departments, commercial enterprises, and not-for-profit bodies, to address this challenge of building capability.

This approach is called the 70:20:10 model.

One of the 70:20:10 model’s most powerful uses is to help extend learning beyond the classroom and structured eLearning to exploit the myriad of learning opportunities that occur in the daily workflow.

It is in the daily workflow that most learning occurs naturally. We learn best when we face, and overcome, real challenges, when we make mistakes, step back and reflect ‘why didn’t that work’ and try a new approach, and we learn continually when we work, and discuss challenges and successes, with our colleagues and mentors.


"70:20:10 requires HR and L&D professionals to become ‘Sherpas’ for
capability-building rather than managers of learning processes."


The 70:20:10 approach is designed to address all types of learning, whether it’s structured in the form of courses and programmes (the ‘10’), encouraged by sharing and learning with others (the ‘20’), or learning through experience, practice and reflection (the ‘70’).

We know that learning of any kind is highly contextual. We may be able to learn some principles and general concepts in a classroom, but we only embed the ‘real’ learning by putting those principles and concepts into action. In fact, there is no other way to demonstrate that learning has occurred than by assessing actions. If our behaviour changes, and we can show our ability has improved, then learning has occurred. If our actions and ability remain the same, then we must assume no learning has occurred.


70:20:10 is one of the major drivers that has led to a shift in focus to workplace and social learning by HR and Learning professionals over the past few years. This shift is a significant one. And it is not just a passing phase or fad. This re-focus is reflecting a fundamental change that is happening all around us – the move from a world of ‘push’ to a world of ‘pull’, and a move from structure and known processes to a world that is much more fluid and where speed to performance and quality of results are paramount. 

The 70:20:10 approach supports the ‘need for speed’ to build capability in a fast, flexible and sustained manner.

Organisations which implement the 70:20:10 model find that, in extending the focus on learning beyond the classroom and eLearning, they also need to extend the responsibility for workforce development beyond the HR and Learning and Development (L&D) departments. In a 70:20:10 world, capability-building is everyone’s responsibility. Executives and leaders need to ensure a culture of continuous development is supported at organisational level; managers and team-leaders need to actively support and develop their teams as a joint priority with delivering their business objectives; and HR and learning professionals need to adopt new mindsets and practices to encourage continuous learning with work.

The demands on the HR and L&D professionals in a 70:20:10 world are significant. Apart from changes in mindset, there are new skills and capabilities they need to acquire.


“... the capability of your people is your most important asset.
Once we appreciate this fact, the need to build capability becomes an obvious priority.


70:20:10 stretches HR and Learning professionals well beyond the design, develop, deliver approach that has occupied much of their time and effort in the past.

70:20:10 requires HR and L&D professionals to become ‘Sherpas’ for capability-building rather than managers of learning processes. They need to take on new roles to act as guides to help the workforce exploit development opportunities on a day-to-day basis rather than only deliver and manage structured learning events. As part of this change, they also need to think ‘resources’ rather than only ‘courses’. Providing performance support with a performance-focused mindset becomes a critical capability for these professionals.

70:20:10, above all else, helps us think ‘capability and performance’ rather than ‘learning’ as the end point.

The 70:20:10 approach has evolved to embrace and extend the best aspects of existing practice, while acting as an agent of change for the adoption of new practices (and some old ones that have fallen into disuse, too).

70:20:10 is a practical approach that brings learning to work, and uses work to enhance learning. By combining these, workforce capability can be improved more efficiently and more effectively. Many organisations are already demonstrating this fact.


Charles Jennings

Author of   ’70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’
Duntroon Consultants & 70:20:10 Institute
January 2016