Professional Development and the 70/20/10 Rule

Amy Benson

A few months after I started working at CompassPoint, I had the opportunity to take the course How to Develop Your Professional Development Plan. We increased our self-awareness through reflecting on previous jobs, proudest accomplishments, and even favorite childhood pastimes, and each workshop participant was encouraged to craft a “purpose statement” to guide our professional development planning. Mine sounded something like: “I want to work in a feminist and socially-conscious environment where people work hard AND laugh a lot, and where I can contribute to a team effort of making the world a better place.” Lucky for me, that’s a pretty good description of CompassPoint. 

I do remember thinking it was a bit strange to take a workshop to discover my ideal job right after starting a new job. I mean, realistically, what did it matter what my talents and interests were? If my job is to make coffee and copies, then I’ll make coffee and copies. As it turns out, I do make many pots of coffee and wrestle with my fair share of photocopier jams, and alongside that, CompassPoint is all about supporting staff to identify their areas of interest and to develop them.

Two of my areas of interest were, and are, group facilitation and interpersonal communication. The “70/20/10 rule” (a practical rule of professional development that we reference often at CompassPoint) says that if I want to develop those skills, 10% of the learning will take place in a workshop or by reading a book. Another 20% can come through mentoring or coaching, and 70% of mastering the new skill will come from actually doing it. In other words, the way to develop skills starts with workshops, continues with conversation and reflection on the learning, and really gets embedded into muscle memory through practice, practice, practice.

Applying the 70/20/10 Rule to My Interest in Group Facilitation

When I started at CompassPoint, I felt pretty confident already in my group facilitation skills – after all, I’d started facilitating meetings as a student activist, and in the years since then, I’ve facilitated writing groups, discussion groups, planning meetings, and heart circles (a heart circle is a group of people coming together to speak and listen from the heart). I felt like I’d seen every obstacle that can possibly come up to interrupt smooth group process and that I already knew the secret of meeting facilitation: Have a plan, and have it written down on big paper. 

As it turns out and may be expected, there is a LOT of expertise on facilitating meetings among the staff at CompassPoint. Instead of showing up as the facilitator, I got to be a participant and watch all the different styles and techniques that people have here. I found out that, even with my big paper and a plan, I still had a lot to learn about group facilitation. It was intimidating the first time I had to facilitate a CompassPoint staff-wide discussion! It’s a little intimidating every time, but I’ve found a way to develop this skill on the job, using the 70/20/10 rule. I attended a training on facilitative leadership, and since then, I joined my colleague Steve Lew as co-chair of our Multicultural Organizational Development team. He and I take turns facilitating team meetings, and then after each meeting, we spend 5 minutes sharing feedback about how it went, and what we could try differently for next time. I’m getting more confident and skillful all the time.

Applying the 70/20/10 Rule to My Interest in Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is another area where I feel confident about my skills, and yet I know there’s a lot of room for improvement. During my first year on staff, I took all the communication workshops CompassPoint offers and I spent my professional development funds on books like Taking the War Out of Our Words, Crucial Conversations, and Fierce ConversationsThe books and workshops were all fantastic, and at a certain point, I got frustrated with the realization that I was still falling into old, bad habits as soon as conflict arose. I was doing the reading and the classroom learning, but I wasn’t practicing or trying my new skills in my day-to-day life. I wasn’t honoring the 70/20/10 rule of changing my communication style! As potentially awkward and uncomfortable as it sounded, if I wanted to change the way I communicate (and I do) I had to practice new skills. So I launched a practice group where people who had taken communication courses can take on the awkward task of trying new communication skills together. Facilitating this practice group led to an ongoing monthly lunch date with people committed to improving their interpersonal communication. I also started doing weekly communication self-reflection, documenting in a journal what difficult conversations I had that week, what went well, and what I could try differently next time. That journal came in handy just last week, when I had a crisis of faith and began wondering if all this work had really changed anything at all. It was such a relief to have a written record of my experiments and accomplishments. 

I feel lucky to work at an organization that honors professional development by giving all employees the time and money to attend workshops and buy books, and even more importantly, helping me to strategize about what I’m interested in, where that intersects with our business plan, and what opportunities might exist to learn more through doing the work we already do. This February I’m going to team up with my colleague Steve Lew again to deliver an Authentic Communication training for a client. That professional development plan that I created when I started my journey at CompassPoint continues to evolve as I gain skills and experience and get involved in different areas of our practice. As it turns out, there are ways to get the day-to-day work done and, at the same time, explore and develop my strengths and talents.

Take Charge of Your Professional Development

I encourage you to give yourself the time to reflect on what you want your own professional development to be. For more ideas about how to involve professional development into your work plan, attend this upcoming workshop.

To get you started, here’s a summary list of some of the tips I’ve covered in this post, plus a few more:

  • Engage a peer to support you (like my communications lunch dates)
  • Keep a journal of your progress
  • Buy books about the skill that you're interested in cultivating
  • Take a class in the area you’re interested in
  • Identify opportunities to practice what you’ve learned
  • Identify people who are skilled in the area you’re interested in and interview them
  • Find templates for professional development planning on our website here
  • Remember that progress takes time, and you might not see results right away

What strategies have you tried to develop new skills? How did they go?  What’s next for you in 2014?  Please comment below to keep the conversation going.

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