Deep Learning - transforming the 70/20/10 framework

Many of us are aware of the 70/20/10 methodology, for a long time now it’s been the gold standard in learning and leadership training approaches. For many, It's been the go-to model for many human resource and learning and development professionals.

The 70/20/10 model breaks down the amount of time used in any development initiative into three specific parentage categories:

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In my experience, we spend far too much time developing our leaders in a classroom context with the expectation that they can convert ‘theory’ back in the workplace.  A workplace which is often more complex and fraught with numerous ‘operational variables’ unique to their environment and far more multifaceted than the case study examples provided in a textbook.

One of the positive attributes of the 70/20/10 model is that it places far more emphasis on the art of practice and on-the-job learning. And for the most part, this is exactly what is needed in many of today's workplaces.

This is my sticking point: despite the ongoing use of this model by many organisations and training companies, emerging research is clearly indicating the quality of leadership and management performance continues to fall well short of the desired requirements.

According to the largest ever Australian Leadership study conducted within the 15 years by the Centre of Australian Workplace Leadership, ‘Do Australian leaders have what it takes?’ (July, 2016),  many of the existing approaches Australian businesses currently use to developing their leaders/managers are still falling well below the desired standard required to sustain Australian businesses in the future.

Two key findings from that report worth sharing:

Many Australian leaders are not well-trained for the job

“Formal qualifications are not everything, but formal training provides a foundation for the diverse skills associated with leadership – from technical expertise to solving problems and managing change. One in four senior leaders in private sector organisations have no formal training beyond secondary school. The same goes for majority Australian-owned and small or medium-sized organisations.”

Many Australian organisations do not get the basics right

“Many leaders and managers are not mastering basic management fundamentals such as performance monitoring, target setting and the appropriate use of incentives. Mastery of these is important for improved performance and better employee outcomes, above and beyond leadership capabilities and self-efficacy.”

To complement the findings of the Australian Leadership Study, Deloitte's paper on ‘Human Capital Trends for 2016’ also clearly indicates that the current levels of leadership capacity are not meeting the demands of the current market demands or expectations. More concerning, their leadership capability strategies are also ill prepared for the future!

So this got me thinking about the extensive use the 70/20/10 model in leadership development education and training and questioning if it is serving its purpose to its full potential particularly as a standalone approach? Is it fully equipped to meet the demands of the modern day complex work environment?


You could surmise right about now that I don’t see value in the 70/20/10 framework, but my position is actually the opposite. I think it’s a wonderful approach. I do however think that it's missing one key component being; and that element is vertical development.

Most organisations that use the 70/20/10 framework use it as a deployment strategy/process as opposed to a strategic capacity building framework. Organisations tend to focus on the delivery of technical skills (horizontal development) and fail to realise or utilise its real power and potential for change and development.

The real strength of the 70/20/10 framework comes when employing it in conjunction with vertical development. 


Many people are now familiar with the term VUCA, meaning Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous as a metaphor for describing the complex nature of global operating conditions. Vertical development refers to set of human developmental functioning and advanced skill development that deals specifically with negating the impact of VUCA in the workplace. 

It is a series of competencies and expertise that empower executives to lead effectively in the conditions of emerging uncertainty.

Colleagues of mine, Digby Scott and Nick Petrie from the Centre for Creative Leadership has released several detailed whitepapers on the subject of vertical development and recently one on the "How To" of vertical development. This paper gives quite a detailed account of the specific skills required to build vertical development capacities. These skills fall into three general categories:

  1. Heat Experiences - getting way out of your comfort zone by increasing the complexity and scale of your role and its associated task demands, enabling you to see new ways of executing traditional approaches and exceeding previous limitations.

  2. Colliding Perspectives - seeking and working with people whose worldview and approach is significantly different or more elevated than your own.

  3. New Meta-Mental Models - finding new ways to frame and think about common workplace problems and the VUCA environment.


Quite a lot actually. It’s like the difference between your old windows 1.0 computer and the latest super slim windows 10.0 laptop.

Both computers do the same thing, but they do it in completely different ways and levels of speed. The older computer model also fails to have the critical capacities needed for the modern world. Functions like multi-tasking, internet connection and external software integrations.

Horizontal development = Windows 1.0 laptop.

Vertical development = Windows 10 laptop.

Most leadership development programs are unfortunately still building Windows 1.0 models, by learning or extending capacity they already have. The newer laptop doesn’t just do the same things as the old (just faster), it does things the other one can’t and will never do. We need leadership development programs that build more Windows 10.0 laptops.

The reason most leadership and development initiatives fail in my experience is they fail to deliver the skills we need for the 21st century. They focus on just adding and recreating the old and avoid (at all costs) creating something new and fit for purpose, being today’s complex environment. If I had to summarise the difference between vertical and horizontal development in a couple of simple sentences, it would be as follows:

Horizontal Development = what you ‘already can do’ and focuses on the extension of a leader’s technical skills. It extends the level of thinking you already possess.

Vertical Development = what you ‘could do’. It’s about upgrading your thinking with a new operating system, which allows you to do things that you have never done before.

This is why vertical development is so critical to modern leadership development. In summary it fosters:

  • Strategic Thinking and Foresight

  • Innovation

  • Collaboration

  • Rapid Execution

While breaking down silos, encouraging cultures of inclusion, transparency and empowerment.

For myself and many others invested in creating agile leaders with the skills for navigating the future, vertical development is still surprisingly absent from a majority of leadership development programs. I believe the power of the 70/20/10 framework is fundamentally transformed and enhanced when integrated with vertical development.

One of the critical challenges to this occurring is that very few HR and OD professionals know what it is, and fewer yet know how to facilitate its deployment correctly inside their organisation or seek out professionals who can.

The reality is that organisations who are failing to include vertical development in the design and development of their leadership initiatives is one of the key reasons our leaders are unprepared for leading now and in the future. 


  • On the Job Learning

  • Coaching and Mentoring

  • Training and Formal Learning


1 - 70% On the Job Learning + Heat Experiences

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Developing people's capacity requires stretching participants learning significantly beyond their current realm of comfort. On the job training is simply not enough in isolation. Think about it terms of going to the gym and just lifting the same weight every day. The first week or two weeks of training provides benefit, but after that there is no real gain. Inviting participants to stretch themselves substantially beyond their comfort zone is critical for the development of new thinking and applying new constructs and methods to real world problems.

You can achieve this by scaling the task demands dramatically beyond the current level of complexity, which forces participants to break down old constructs and ushers in new ways of thinking about and solving challenges.  Just doing more of what you already do does not increase vertical capacity or organisational impact.

Insight question: Do your leadership programs include personal and collective innovation programs that solve existing challenges?

2 -  20% Coaching and Mentoring + Colliding Perspectives

Working with a coach or a mentor plays a critical part in the development of leaders, managers and employees. What’s more important however is the calibre of coach, you or your organisations choose.

Many businesses want or preference coaches or mentors that come from their current sector or have previous experience in their industry. While this helps provide a sense of certainty and comfort for organisations, it does not necessarily help participants build the type of mind-sets and skillsets that the organisation needs.

To put it simply many coach selections are unconsciously biased on facilitating the status quo or are typically like-minded.  This does not create the type of thinking needed to move the organisation and its functioning to a healthier state. To increase the impact of your talent initiative coaches need to be selected to raise the vertical level of thinking and learning by exploring different and more evolved ways of operating. Not reinforcing the thinking that inhibits an organisation to shift forward. Many just roll out content (what they already know and understand) under the 70/20/10 banner and think they have hit the mark.

In my experience, this is one of the key reasons that many corporations have limited capacity for innovation and collaboration across teams, departments, function and industry.

Insight question - Are your coaches fluent in the concepts of vertical development?

3 - 10% Formal learning and New Mental Models

The key challenge for many organisations today is coordination and coherence. In an age where data and information constantly bombard us, it’s difficult for individuals to make effective decisions. Having an effective mental model or a meta-framework becomes critical to enable leaders to organise the chaos that surrounds them. 

Most formal learning still focuses on models that are technically based and out of date by about 20 years (universities and business schools are a prime example) and concentrate on extending what I call legacy skills. Namely, qualifications that businesses already occupy, as opposed to skills and tools that you don't have but critically need.  

Insight Question: Do you have a meta-model that helps your people, teams and organisation navigate the increasing level of complexity in your business?

If you would like to know more about how to improve the power of your leadership initiatives using The Deep 70/20/10 model or have some feedback I'd love to hear from you.