Let’s Stop Pushing “Development” as a Cheap Replacement for Training

A slightly abbreviated version of this post was recently published in Smartblog on Leadership:

True confession time.

I once worked for a large, global conglomerate that was in a
death spiral and struggling to turn things around. The company was harvesting
its mature and declining business in order to pump cash into its growth bets.

This company had a proud tradition of investing in the
development of its employees. Sales reps were trained in their products and how
to sell them, scientists went to conferences, engineers were offered continued
training to keep their skills up to date, and new managers were trained how to

There was even a requirement that every employee received 40
hours of training.

A new CFO came on board and decided that training was a
luxury that could no longer be afforded. Instead of a way to improve skills and
make the business stronger, it was seen as an expense – even worse, a
strategically irrelevant expense, like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic.

Training budgets and staff were drastically cut. What
training staff was left was charged with trying to convince the remaining
employees that the company 40 hour training commitment was really a 40 hour development commitment. That is,
projects, books, discussions with your manager, just about anything could and
should be counted towards those 40 hours.

The Center for Creative Leadership is known for its “70-20-10
model of leadership development. That is, 70% of an executive’s learning comes
from job changes and actual work, 20% from others, and the remaining 10% from
books, courses, and hardships. We took that research and peddled it as a reason
to eliminate ALL training, including sales, product, technical, management, and
anything else that took place in a classroom. We replaced it with elearning
courses and development plans and told employees “go at it, you’re on your

Cindy McCauley, one of the original CCL researchers behind the 70-2-10 model, wrote recently in an article called “My Love-Hate relationship with 70-20-10″I hate it because people misuse it. I’ve heard colleagues complain that it is justification to cut formal programs. The reasoning: if they account for only 10% of development, why do we need it? (Back to the critical details—some things are best learned in formal programs.)  Another complaint: Attempts to force everything into the 70-20-10 mold, as if one concept should rule decision making about program designs, learning and development budgets, and individual development plans.”

I’m not proud to tell that story, as I was a part of
peddling that garbage until I had had enough and joined a company that was really committed to employee training
and development. The reason I’m baring my soul is that I still see HR and
training professionals trying to sell themselves and their employees the same
propaganda. Sometimes they are doing as they are told, but sometimes they
really seem to believe it.

Look, I’m not naïve, and as a training practitioner, and now
a provider, certainly have a strong bias towards the value of real training. I
totally get the need to watch the bottom line, and eliminate any form of
wasteful spending. I hate wasting money and people’s time on

Development is important – it truly is where we learn most
of our lessons in life. But so is training. There are key points in a leader’s
career – first time promotion – a significant new responsibility – getting
ready to move into a senior executive role – major shifts in strategic
direction – and others where a good old fashioned dose of training (yes, even
classroom, where you can learn and network with others) will accelerate that
learning curve.

Sure, without training, people can still “wing it”, try to
learn on their own, and sink or swim. Eventually, though trial and error, they
may pick it up. But when you are in a leadership position, your mistakes can
hurt others, and the higher the level, the more costly those little lessons
learned become. Wouldn’t it be worth the cost of 1-2 days of training to
prevent a million dollar mistake?

Let’s stop pushing “development” as a cheap replacement for
training, if it’s really just an excuse to cut costs, and let’s get smarter as
to how we invest our limited training budgets.