Looking at competence development from a 70:20:10 perspective

by Caroline Fiche, Senior Advisor, Dossier Solutions.

For many, having the right competence where it is needed, when it is needed, is something of a pipe dream. 

In reality, it is easier said than done. More than ever before, competence is a perishable commodity, and what constitutes the right or sufficient competence is constantly changing. The needs of the market, new technological opportunities and increasing demands for quality and documentation are all factors that must be taken into consideration. 

This means that competence development needs to be a more or less continuous process, if organisations are to meet both their current and future needs.

It is also vital for competence development to be organised in a way that allows both managers and employees to prioritise it in a busy working day. It is no longer enough simply to make an e-learning programme available and encourage everyone to attend various courses. There needs to be a clear relationship between the requirements set by the organisation for competence development and each employee’s opportunities for learning. Implementation must be flexible, so that competence development becomes a natural part of the working day. For busy managers, it is important that employees can easily take responsibility for their own learning and that proposed development measures are always up to date. Last, but not least, it is essential that monitoring and documenting implementation is easy for the manager.

In our experience, it can be really helpful to prepare a learning plan, containing various requirements and specific learning activities, that is adapted to the role and to the various tasks each individual has in his or her working day. Such a plan should be adaptable to various roles, and it should be kept updated and maintained centrally. Here is an example of what a learning plan of this kind could look like.


Organising is one thing, but can we be entirely certain that what we are doing in pursuit of competence development really produces the results we are looking for?


Traditionally, formal competence development has had a high status. It can be made available to large numbers of people by means of classroom-based training, e-learning courses and seminars, and it is easy to document and communicate. However, how transferrable is it to the tasks and challenges people face every day? Will the organisation be able to utilise this knowledge? These are the questions behind Charles Jennings’ 70:20:10 theory. This theory challenges the traditional way of thinking about development and learning, and it is steadily increasing in popularity – for good reason, because most people can relate it to their own experience. Where and when did I learn the most? Most people will probably answer that it was a combination of new knowledge, having the opportunity to utilise this knowledge in real situations in collaboration with others, and in particular building up more and more experience.

One good example is how we learn to drive a car. Theory is necessary, as is the training we receive from an experienced driver. But if we are to truly develop into good drivers, it is absolutely vital to practise and gain experience by driving in various conditions and tackling the different challenges they present. All three of these learning activities are essential in order to become a good driver, and it is easy to imagine the undesirable consequences of omitting any of them.

The 70:20:10 theory is supported by a number of researchers. They believe that 70 per cent of the knowledge we acquire is obtained on the job, as we carry out various tasks and solve various problems. A further 20 per cent of our knowledge is obtained through coaching and feedback from colleagues, whereas only 10 per cent comes from formal competence development in a classroom or through e-learning. They conclude that knowledge only becomes competence when it is used in real situations together with others. This means that many different learning activities must have been undertaken before knowledge really becomes useful. It is therefore important to give each individual the necessary freedom and opportunities to use acquired knowledge in practice, so that they can develop their skills and acquire more experience. Here are a few examples of how this can be done:


Various development measures that are defined in the “70 per cent”:

  • expanding the individual’s field of work
  • allocating new tasks and greater responsibility
  • giving greater freedom and latitude
  • deputising for managers/colleagues in meetings

Learning through problem-solving:

  • participating in groups to resolve real business challenges
  • including new learning in projects that require interdisciplinary cooperation
  • using feedback to solve problems in new ways in the individual’s own role
  • taking on new tasks and challenges in day-to-day work

Learning through new experiences:

  • deputising for others
  • having access to other departments/roles (rotating)
  • working together with experts
  • taking part in projects or teamwork
  • interviewing colleagues/managers
  • participating in project debriefings


There are countless opportunities here. However, it is important to consider that learning requires a combination of activities, so-called “blended learning”. This must take place day to day, through various types of professional input and opportunities to use new knowledge in new ways and in a variety of environments.


Written and published by Dossier Solutions.