The Importance of On-The-Job Learning for Women

How much time do you spend learning on the job? If we look to the standard "70:20:10 ratio," we might think that we spend a lot more time engaging in on-the-job development opportunities than we actually do.

A new report from DDI and The Conference Board called Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015 gives us the breakdown of actual time spent on formal learning and learning from others versus on-the-job learning. It turns out that 70:20:10 (which represents on-the-job learning, learning from others, and learning from formal development, respectively) doesn't mirror the way leaders are really learning after all. In a study of more than 13,000 leaders at all levels, the actual ratio of 55:25:20 places a higher emphasis on formal learning and learning from others--while deemphasizing on-the-job learning--when compared to the old model.

The study next examined what ratio reflects the companies with the highest-quality leadership development practices. The resulting data--52:27:21--closely matches how leaders actually spend their time. Researchers also asked leaders how much time they currently spend on leadership development, compared with the amount of time they would like to spend. They discovered that leaders spend significantly less time on leadership development (5.4 hours/month) than they would ideally prefer to spend (8.1 hours/month).

Finally, when questioned about how much more time they would like to spend in each type of learning, leaders answered that they want 76 percent more time for formal learning, 71 percent more time for learning from others, and 26 percent more time for on-the-job learning.

This research suggests a couple of take-home points:

  • First, the 70:20:10 model misrepresents how leaders actually spend their time. It also isn't accurate when compared with the highest-performing organizations in terms of leadership development, or with the preferences of many leaders.

  • Second, relying on a ratio--even an accurate one--places greater emphasis on the separation of learning methods. A more effective approach is to work toward their integration. In its ideal form, learning is an amalgamation or hybrid of formal development programs, executive coaching, mentoring, and on-the-job assessment. DDI notes that when learning methods compete against each other, it undermines their impact and value. It's only through integration that the methods can effectively build on one another.
  • Third, organizations should be held accountable for creating this educational blend for employees, with a special emphasis on offering learning opportunities for women. Many organizations have failed to reinforce the importance of each type of learning--particularly on-the-job learning. For women's leadership development, this is key, as like men they need ample opportunities to gain field, operations, and P&L experience.
  • Fourth, as part of their on-the-job learning experience, women need to actively seek out these key roles, and then leverage their unique strengths to excel at them.
  • The report concludes that while learning from others and experiential learning contribute to the ideal blend, spending more time on formal learning opportunities can help to build foundational leadership competencies. Yet on-the-job learning is crucial to help women rise off of the Sticky Floor (See SHAMBAUGH's targeted development programs for women leaders: Customized In House Programs and WILL). The best benefit for all comes when formal learning is designed as one component of the overall learning mix. This establishes a solid framework and foundation for on-the-job learning, enabling job experiences to be leveraged into sustainable advancement and change.

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