Can we continue with the 20% rule?!

Over the last three decades we’ve read the reports from the likes of Baldwin & Ford (1998), Broad & Newstrom (1992), Leimbach (2010) & Phillips & Phillips (2008) all detailing that learning transfer is not happening in the workplace. Typically, we accept that only around 10-20% of what is learnt is applied, and in 2017 with all the knowledge we have about learning styles why should we continue to accept this? Admittedly this is not the same for every course in every company, and is only a general rule of thumb, but why can’t that general rule of thumb become 60%, 70% or 80%?

Lets be honest, we’ve heard all the excuse a million time as to why the learner has not successfully applied any new skills or behaviours after the learning intervention. Whether they were “too busy”, “unsupported by their line manager” or one of the plethora of other excuses.

Why is it then, these same employees still insist on being developed year in year out? Why as L&D professionals should we continue to develop them if we know that they won’t apply any new skills or behaviours just because they have a) requested training b) we have budget to use up and might as well fill the course up even if it means sending the person from sales on an account course!

We should be making the learner, and their line managers accountable for delivering value from the learning intervention that one or both have typically requested. By being able to measure what’s being applied provides a much deeper contract between the business & the learner. Why, as an organisation shouldn’t we be able to question the value of the training, and if an individual hasn’t successfully applied learning from one course why should we trust they will do so from another? Creating this informal contract between the three parties (learner, line manager & the business) means that the old saying, “what gets measured, gets done” can finally come true for L&D.

Marketing wouldn’t be allowed to effectively waste 80% of their budget, in fact no department in any organisation would, so why within the L&D world is this seen to be ok? Then when the business goes through a tough patch we wonder why the L&D budget is the first to get cut! Perhaps if we started to measure more, and have the ability to show that L&D activity is a worthwhile investment the budgets may even start to increase! After all the institute of fiscal studies have proven that for every $1 invested in human capital it adds a massive $11.39 to GDP.