You get the ‘70–20–10’ rule all wrong

You might’ve heard that practical experience should go first. I beg to differ, and here is my reasoning.

I am not the best at interviewing people. First of all, I have not participated in many interviews. So far, my score is around four hiring cycles and 60 people evaluated. Secondly, I scare them. Seriously, especially in the Netherlands, I have received much feedback like ‘this interview was too tough.’ Do you think I beat them? Not at all! I just offered a typical technical interview, a conversation to scratch their hard skills as managers.

So why are people so upset? Apparently, many still see a manager position as a natural step from the senior-level specialist. Thus they refer to the ‘70–20–10’ rule. It says that individuals obtain 70 percent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational events. Thus, translating to the human language, you hear the following: I want to become a manager to spend 70% of my time experimenting, 20% asking for advice, and 10% (or, literally, never) gaining the formal knowledge. I do not think it makes a grain of sense, and here is why.

Management is a profession. It is not an activity, or a technique, or an approach. Being a manager is a lifetime learning, like any other knowledge job you can imagine. That is why I dedicate no less than 45 hours per week to it, and I still feel I am at the beginning of my journey. There is no way you can continue doing your ‘previous’ job and combine it with management activities. And if you need to obtain those skills, you should do it fast.

Management is a different set of skills. Are you an outstanding developer? Are you a glorious designer? It won’t help you become a great manager directly. I mean, it builds your personal brand and reputation within an organization, but let’s see the truth. If you decide to shift towards management, you should start all over again. You can refer to popular models, like PMI Talent Triangle. Do you see any JS framework there? Sorry, but I told ya.

Management requires dedication. During interviews, my last question is always, “What is your plan for the next year or two regarding your professional development?” It is sorry to say that I’ve heard at least something back twice in my career. It means that people firmly believe that, for instance, facilitation skills come from nowhere, just from experience. To explain an issue, I use the metaphor of a vase. You cannot keep water in if you do not have a vase. Sounds simple, right?

Management requires experience. Do not underestimate the job description that mentions ‘years of experience.’ Ray Dalio, in his ‘Principles,’ said that when you hire, make sure that a person has completed the required job at least three times successfully. Of course, three times may be a luxury for many companies and candidates. However, you should read ‘2 years of experience working in Scrum-like environments’ in a way that you have led at least three projects in the Scrum framework. Another interesting point from the HBR article by Marc Effron. He mentions three ‘experiences’ that help you grow as a manager. First, life-cycle experiences mean a manager works in different environments like a startup, a steady-state environment, a developing market, etc. Second, managing experiences include different team situations, such as large teams, small ones, experienced teams. Finally, geographical experiences are defined as ones outside your home geography. You cannot be even a junior project manager without some ‘years of experience.’ As I usually say, the difference between a junior PM and an intern is that a junior project manager can lead a project altogether. Yes, not the most complex one, but still, foundation skills are already required.

I do not propagate certifications. It is not sufficient to prove your knowledge but a necessary condition to demonstrate your willingness to learn and ability to use a common vocabulary. From my experience, it is quite uncommon for applicants to read numerous books and articles and understand concepts with all nuances. That is why I am always suspicious of managers without any education activities for ages. Let’s sum up. While I totally support the concept of continuous learning from numerous sources, I see a great misconception in this ‘70–20–10’ model.

In fact, you should read it as ‘10–20–70’.

First, it all comes from the foundational knowledge and basic vocabulary. Then, you interact with people to apply your knowledge and gain collective wisdom. Only after that, fully armed and extremely dangerous, can you experiment with approaches on the battlefield.

Remember — to break the rules, you should know them first.



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