Charles Jennings

Managing Director of Duntroon Associates

Charles Jennings is the Managing Director of Duntroon Associates, a workplace performance expert. Being an innovator of enterprise learning solutions with a 40-year experience in the learning and development field, he acquainted a deep knowledge in both the business and learning practitioner sides of performance improvement and effective learning solutions. But, most importantly, he knows ‘what works’ in the world of strategic talent.

Christopher Pappas, Efthymios Savvakis & Nasia Efthimiou

Interview with Charles Jennings

If you were to classify the industry you are currently a part of, what would you identify this industry as?

I see this industry as one that has an increasing and critical role to play in improving performance across local, national and international workforces. Its focus is not on learning but on performance. Its increasingly critical role is due to the fact that the intangible value of organizations is almost universally increasing, and most of that intangible value is constituted by the capability of workforces. In 1975 more than 80% of the value of the S&P 500 was tangible. By 2009 that had flipped – more than 80% was intangible.

The role of our industry is to support this important element of our organizations perform to their highest ability.

In your 70:20:10 model, you suggest that, in real life, 70% of what people learn comes from experience & practice, another 20% comes through other people and conversations and only a 10% of learning occurs formally. Which do you consider the most “trustworthy” or “valid” kind of learning – experiential, social or workplace learning?

Research suggests that learning which occurs closer to the point of use has greater impact. A study from the Corporate Executive Board into the value of on-the-job learning found that workplace learning led to a 300% increase in employee performance over formal training only, and that employees who engaged in ‘high exposure’ to on-the-job learning (11 or more on-the-job learning activities during the past month) were 262% more engaged with their work and workplace.

Despite this, it’s important to understand that all three types of learning and development have their place. It’s all about the right type of development for any specific context.

An associated point here – it’s important to understand that the ‘numbers’ in the 70:20:10 model are not set in stone. They will vary with the type of working environment – in highly regulated environments more time and effort is spent on the ‘10’.

In highly innovative working environments more time and effort is likely to be spent on the ‘20’ and ‘70’.

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What made you overcome the conventional and also traditional wisdom which implies that formal education (such as schools, universities etc) is one of the most significant factors in someone’ s job competency?

Looking at it from a personal point-of-view, like the majority of people when I reflected on the most impactful learning experiences I’d had in my life I concluded that the vast majority occurred while I was attempting to complete a task rather than when I was sitting in a classroom or working through an eLearning module. Of course one or two inspiring teachers and professors have left their mark, but most of what I’ve learned – and I’m sure I’m not unique in this – has been through rich and challenging experiences, taking the opportunity to practice, building and using personal networks, and through personal reflection. Many people find it difficult to uncouple ‘learning’ from ‘schooling’. Learning is a continuous process. Schooling helps, of course, but the top brain surgeon or scientist or athlete didn’t rely on the formal instruction they received in school to reach the top. School may have given them a good start, but only a start.

Formal training is often good to help people reach basic competency, but we should be looking beyond that.

According to the analogy of 70:20:10, only the 10% of someone’ s learning skills can be actually measured, that of the formal education, due to an existing standard grading system. Don’t you believe that the experiential and social learning should also be evaluated in some way?

I would challenge the idea that what we’re often doing in measuring formal education is actually measuring ‘learning’ at all! Most evaluation and measurement techniques approach the challenge from the ‘wrong end’. We generally assess knowledge acquisition and the ability to follow process. Is this ‘learning’? It isn’t unless you can determine whether the new knowledge leads to behavior change.

Effective learning measurement needs to be focused on outputs. After all, ‘learning’ can only be measured in terms of a demonstration of behavior change. If behavior has changed and performance has improved then we can assume that learning has occurred.  The often used pre-test/post-test assessment is not measuring learning at all. It’s measuring short-term memory recall.

On top of this I don’t subscribe to the belief that measuring social learning or experiential learning is any different to the effective measurement of formal education. If we’re measuring outputs, the methodology used to effect the behavior change is irrelevant from the measurement point-of-view.

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Could you give us a practical example of a learning strategy based on the 70:20:10 model?

Many organizations around the world are using 70:20:10 as a reference model (not a rule) as a guide for transforming the way they build and execute their learning strategy. Implementation varies from one organization to another, but there are some basic principles that apply across the board.

a) A 70:20:10 strategy will encompass ways of supporting learning and development as it’s happening in the daily workflow as well as providing away-from-work development opportunities. This may be through managers focusing on providing challenging jobs or tasks for their reports, supporting them to succeed in completing the jobs/tasks, and creating time for reflective practice to ensure that learning has occurred and that similar jobs/tasks will be done better next time.

b) A 70:20:10 strategy will ensure it supports the ‘20’ (learning with and through others) by building peer and manager coaching cultures, improving open feedback on performance and personality strengths (the latter has been shown to have a more positive impact on performance), and providing opportunities for mentoring. It will provide encouragement to build strong and robust networks, and encouragement to use those networks to help get work done to a higher standard and more effectively (‘working smarter’).

A practical example I can provide is a global company that has adopted a credo of ‘one learning a day’ underpinned by a 70:20!0 strategy. Led by the CEO, the company encourages every employee to spend a couple of minutes reflecting on the successes and challenges of each day’s work – and to capture what’s been learned. Employees are then encouraged to share their learning with their teams and others using social media tools and in other ways. This is a simple thing to do, and other organizations have adopted similar approaches – Qualcomm’s 52-weeks storytelling initiative is an example.

When it’s embedded in a wider 70:20:10 strategy of creating a culture of continuous development it’s more likely to be sustainable.

Does somebody ever become willing to manage his own learning?

Many people are delighted to take control of their own learning so long as they have the support of their manager and organization to do so. There is an argument that the only manager of learning is the person in whose head the learning is occurring. Marc Rosenberg has made the point that Learning Management Systems are misnamed. At worst they are course vending machines. One of the challenges Learning Professionals have to face is that their traditional role of ‘deliverers’ of learning is, in the main, no longer a role that is needed. The 2014 ‘Learning in the Workplace’ survey by my colleague Jane Hart found that only 16% of respondents described company training or eLearning as essential, while 80% rated Google as very important/essential for learning. So people are already taking responsibility for managing their own learning.

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In your blog, you quote George Bernard Shaw, according to whom, “Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”. In what way do you believe people should change their minds in order to be trained to learn more effectively?

Changing minds, or mindsets, is a critical part of developing a culture of continuous learning. The 70:20:10 approach is built on extending learning and improving performance, so it requires what Prof. Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset and I call a development mindset in order to succeed. Mindset change is required for improved learning. Of course, we all have multiple mindsets, but Dweck’s research has shown that people with growth mindsets believe that intelligence can be developed and that success comes through effort and practice. Growth mindset people also capitalize on mistakes and confront deficiencies.

Those with fixed mindsets believe talent is ‘fixed’ and tend to have static capabilities.  They also hide their mistakes.

Since 70:20:10 model is based on observations that high performing individuals and organizations build most of their capability by learning within the workflow, how would your rank the importance of eLearning today?

eLearning has evolved as a relatively new channel for ‘delivering’ formal learning. Of course it provides greater reach and, in many cases, is much more efficient at disseminating information and building knowledge than face-to-face teaching (although the latter is a better vehicle for supporting culture change and helping to embed common values). When used well, eLearning can provide fast and effective means to help develop skills. However, it needs to be linked to experiential learning to have impact.

A very good example of the effective use of eLearning in a 70:20:10 context is in Coca-Cola Enterprises in Germany. Coca-Cola Enterprises wanted to develop their sales force beyond a ‘handy delivery service’ and get them to take on a more consultative role with customers. They initially migrated their sales training from classroom to eLearning. They then took the ‘inventive step’ by repurposing the eLearning programs into small modules that could be used in group-based learning sessions facilitated by line leaders/managers. So their eLearning is used as trigger material to support group discussion and collaborative learning.

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You have been the “Chief Learning Officer at Reuters and Thomson Reuters with responsibility for the learning strategy for 55,000 employees across the globe”. How do you manage to monitor so many individualized expectations and needs? Is there a “secret” in the success of a learning strategy?

I think that the key is for L&D leaders to provide a robust framework that focusses both top-down and bottom-up. It’s impossible for them to meet all needs.  In fact it’s stupid to try.

Most of the learning and development occurs as part of the workflow, so the ‘top-down’ element is enrolling and enabling managers and team leaders to best support the development needs of the people reporting to them. The most important part of a people manager’s job is the development of their people.  It’s been shown time and time again that those managers who are focused on, and effective in, the development of their reports have people and teams that out-perform others by a significant margin (one study showed a 25% raised performance and 39% increase in engagement in people reporting to managers who effectively supported their development).

The ‘bottom-up’ support often requires technology – to extend the provision of learning opportunities – but also often needs a culture change to one where individuals take responsibility for their own development. Of course the CLO and others responsible for supporting workforce development need to do their jobs, but when it comes down to it, it’s a joint effort – individual desire to develop, active manager support for development, and organizational infrastructure and tools that make development both easier and more enjoyable.

How much has your own, formal education contributed to being a successful professional?

My formal education laid the ground for my professional career, as it does for most people. A high-performing airline pilot or lawyer needs the grounding of formal education, but you wouldn’t to be their first passenger or client! I’m an example of the usefulness of formal meta-learning rather than detailed knowledge acquisition. My three formal university degrees are in very diverse subjects – natural sciences, chemical engineering, and adult education. The undergraduate and post-graduate sciences degrees taught me something about logical analysis and research methodologies. My post-graduate studies and research in adult education allowed me to dive deeper into the how and when learning occurs. Formal education serves as a ‘passage of rights’ more than any other purpose.

The best learning opportunities I have ever had have occurred as part of my professional work.

How much more about learning strategies in general remains to be discovered?

I think we have a long way to go in terms of evolving learning strategies that are fit-for-purpose in the rapidly-changing world in which we live. The rise and rise of the Internet and, particularly, social media, have put a whole new complexion on the way we work and the way we interact with others – whether they are our colleagues or customers/clients. In turn, there are opportunities opening up for new approaches to individual, team and organizational development. There are many changes that we all know about – the shortening cycles and increases in pressure to innovate, the increasing speed of carrying out business, the need to shorten time to competence/capability and others. As time passes there is no doubt that we will need to continually adjust and refine our learn strategies to meet evolving situations.

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What are you currently working on?

Currently I’m helping a number of organizations evolve and embed their 70:20:10 strategies and ‘bring them to life’ in a practical way.  I’ve also just finished writing a book – a large one – titled “70:20:10 and Beyond” together with two Dutch colleagues. We expect the English version to be published later this year. I also spend quite a lot of time with speaking engagements around the world.

What do your current interests include?

My prime professional interest is being part of the significant change that is occurring in the way L&D professionals help their people to learn and develop. There are huge opportunities for improvement by embracing new technologies, new approaches, and looking at new areas where development opportunities exist beyond the classroom and structured learning event. There is no doubt that the general view of HR and L&D has changed over the past two decades. I recall a conversation when launching the world’s first pure online MBA in 1994 (I was a business school professor at the time). A senior HR professional told me at the time that this was ‘just a passing phase’ and the use of technology would never replace traditional face-to-face MBA programs.

In retrospect, I believe that HR professional was wrong.