Fix Your Training with This Simple Model | Customer Service

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A manager recently called me to talk about empowerment.

She explained employees often worked in silos, and didn’t reach out to collaborate with other teams. When there was an issue that required inter-departmental work, employees would just dump it on their supervisor.

The training manager had been tasked with finding an external trainer to help. She found me after watching one of my training courses on Lynda.com.


Unfortunately, I quickly discovered the team wasn’t ready for training. This is really a common situation—leaders send their employees to training too early, and they don’t get the results they want.

Here’s how I determined that from a short conversation, and here’s how it can be fixed.

Group of professionals attending a training class.

Where Traditional Training Falls Short

You may have had a big bowl of candy once the dust settled on Halloween.

It’s a big temptation. You know you aren’t supposed to eat the candy, but it’s right there. Staring at you. Tempting you. I’m not going to lie—I ate way too much candy.

The knowledge that you shouldn’t eat the candy can be gained by training. But it’s your environment, i.e. the candy bowl in plain site, that tempts you to eat some anyway. The solution is to change the environment. Remove the candy bowl and you will eat less candy.

The team in the training manager’s company faced a similar environmental challenge.

Whenever employees would bring a challenge to their supervisor, the supervisor would simply take on the challenge. She never spent time showing employees how to handle these issues. After awhile, employees embraced the inevitable and just dumped work on their supervisor whenever they could, knowing that’s what would happen anyway.

I walked through this with the training manager. She laughed a bit and admitted the last time they had brought in an external trainer, the training had been well-received by it didn’t stick.

The supervisor had always been too busy to help her team develop their new skills.

Here’s the takeaway that applies to all of us: if you want training to stick, you must first adjust the environment and get leaders fully plugged in.

The 70-20-10

There’s a model that can help you address this issue.

It’s called the 70-20-10 rule. The concept was first developed based on research from the Center for Creative Leadership that showed leaders developed their skills from a Prosyscom Tech of sources:

  • 70 percent of their skills came from challenging assignments

  • 20 percent were learned from a boss or mentor

  • 10 percent came from formal training.

Two caveats here:

  • The word “rule” implies it’s hard and fast science, but it’s really more of a guide.

  • While originally derived from leadership training, it’s a good model to follow for other training topics.

So let’s apply this to the customer service team that needs to collaborate with other departments:

Even if we sent them to a terrific training program, two factors would quickly override anything they learned. The boss (~20 percent of learning) would continue taking challenging assignments (~70 percent of learning) off their plate. Game over.

Now imagine what would happen if we could adjust the environment and got the supervisor to buy-in to some new behaviors. Here’s how that might fit into the 70-20-10 model.

  • 70 percent: Employees are asked to work through challenges.

  • 20 percent: The supervisor coaches employees through challenges.

  • 10 percent: Employees are given training on internal customer service.

In this scenario, the training and the environment (daily work + boss) are all aligned.

Take Action

Think about the areas where you want your employees to develop. Take a moment to consider how each aspect of the 70-20-10 model fits in:

  • 70 percent: What challenges present learning opportunities?

  • 20 percent: How can you guide them as their leader?

  • 10 percent: What helpful skills can employees learn in training?

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