Where do board members really learn? Chances are good that it's where they probably are learning in other areas of their lives as adults. Chances are even better that it's not where our usual board development efforts are focused.
One of the modes of thinking about adult learning that resonates for me is the 70:20:10 rule, which proposes that 70 percent of the average person's learning comes from experience (informal sources) - actually doing the work, making mistakes, learning from them, etc. Another 20 percent comes from interactions with other people (social) - from peers, mentors, bosses, etc. The remaining 10 percent (formal) comes from training events and other structured sources.
Let me make a wild guess here: most of your board's development and capacity building efforts fall in that last number. Mine, too.
The specifics of the 70:20:10 framework is not without critique, but the general notion is borne out in experience and research. Whether or not the numbers shake out at exactly 70:20:10 or some other mix adding up to 100, there is growing consensus that the larger message is true. We learn in a variety of ways, most of them embedded in everyday life and in everyday relationships. Formal events play a very small role.
Charles Jennings' new post, 70:20:10 – Above All Else It’s a Change Agent, states beautifully the ultimate value of recognizing that larger message. He makes the case this way:
Good use of 70:20:10 results in increased focus on supporting effective learning and development within the daily workflow, naturally and at the speed of business – or preferably faster than the speed of business.
Becoming aware of the broader environment where learning takes place and expanding our focus of what's possible is a critical first step and a potential game changer for organizational leaders. What ultimately needs to happen for true transformation? It's a mindset change, Jennings says:
Along with providing a strategy for supporting effective and efficient learning and releasing high performance, 70:20:10 thinking also helps to change and develop mindsets (and change practices). Of course formal away-from-work learning is still necessary to build capability efficiently and effectively in certain situations – especially when people are new to an role or organisation. However we need to think and act more widely than simply changing the delivery channel.
Now, I'm utterly aware that our nonprofit board members are volunteers balancing this work with myriad other life responsibilities. Their time for learning activities in this setting is limited. Ultimately, that means we must make the most of the time we have with them and the time we expect of them.
Steve Trautman frames our responsibilities perfectly in this brief video:
He points specifically to the social learning space, the supportive relationships that foster learning, as a place worthy of attention. He also asks the critical question: how do we think about the entire experiential environment in which people are learning?
In the next post based on the 2015 theme, I'll expand a bit on what each of the 70:20:10 elements might look like in a nonprofit board setting. As I prepare that post, I welcome your thoughts, examples, etc., from your experience.
In the meantime, I'll close with a couple of questions for reflection:
How are our board members learning in their experiences as volunteer leaders?
What kinds of support, from whom, are they receiving from their first day of service with us to their last?
NOTE: As I advance the "Building Environments for Board Learning and Leadership" theme, I'll be creating sets of resources for readers who are interested in exploring the topic on their own. One is a new Pinterest board, devoted to posts that address this theme. A set of bookmarks also will continue to grow with the series. At the moment, those resource lists are predictably small, but they will expand over time. For more general resources on both learning environments and performance support, visit my Pinterest board dedicated to those topics.