Friday, 23 May 2014

Trends in Human Resource Development - piccolo, econimo, rapido

Some years ago I was working with an organisation development consultant on a programme for operations managers.  His mantra was piccolo, econimo, rapido or, in other words, what could be done in small steps, cheaply and quickly to make something happen.  Working in a large and slow moving organisation at the time, the notion felt rather pioneering.  I had become quite stuck with the idea that learning had to be planned and organised, like a military operation.  The result was that the quality of what was done was usually good, but at the expense of being too slow in the eyes of the client.  The idea of piccolo, econimo, rapido made a big difference - it helped change perceptions of the training department from slow and unresponsive to an enabler of workplace performance, in tune with the pace of the business.  

Followers of this blog will know that I like to muse about what's happening in human resource development and, perhaps, the notion of piccolo, econimo, rapido captures something of the trends that are taking place right now in learning.  I talked to a group of undergraduates at Durham Business School in March about trends in HRD and this post is a summary and reflection of some the key things we talked about.

Encouraging independence

Access to powerful search engines means that we can now find most information that we want, when we want it and for free, thus bypassing the traditional gatekeepers.  This means that, most of the time, we can get answers to our time-bound and situation-bound questions without the need for a traditional intermediary like a training department.

In my own practice, I am an active user of online networks to access new ideas.  Whilst it's possible that I might be part of a user group that's paying more attention to these networks and their value, it seems to me that it is only a matter of when, rather than if, this openness will have an impact on formal training.     

In my work with leaders, I often point to ideas and information that I've found on the web, which post-date the production of any course materials, and leave the participants to make their own notes and actions, outside the course, to find them for themselves. For me it's an example of some simple steps, taken in the context of a formal learning setting, which can stimulate and encourage independence.

Single use learning - immediate and disposable

At the Learning and Skills Exhibition 2014 I saw an interesting example of coaching using online tools like Skype.

Although this is a formal development process it does give us a glimpse of what's possible, quickly and cheaply, with tools like Skype when applied to workplace learning - the ability to coach people over distance, the ability to give people information or support and encouragement, the ability to get groups of people in different locations, from different divisions, different countries or different companies together quickly.

It's not difficult to imagine a situation where somebody has just heard that a colleague has got some good techniques for selling a product and they then get everybody onto a Skype call to demonstrate the techniques, talk about it, record it, turn it into a conversation that other people can listen to and then do it.  The focus is on performance and practice rather than getting into the whole cycle of developing a formal piece of learning. 

'Enlighten us, but make it quick'

Ignite is the name for a particular type of event that has been held in around 100 cities worldwide, organised by volunteers, at which participants speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions according to a specific format.  The tagline is 'enlighten us, but make it quick'.  Each speaker is allocated five minutes of presentation time and is accompanied by 20 presentation slides. During the presentations, each slide is displayed for 15 seconds and then automatically advanced.  To see examples follow these links Ignite Cardiff  Ignite Showreel

Reflections on format having seen it in action? Positives: lots of content in a short space of time, redundancy for the listener is minimised, encourages presenters to practise because the slides' advance is uncontrollable. Negatives - creates tension for the speaker  - when I have seen this format in practice I noticed that several of the presenters rushed and on many occasions were waiting for the next slide to advance; it creates tension for the listener - I found myself paying a lot of attention to anticipating the next slide than necessarily concentrating on the speaker.

But it is a great example of the small, cheap and quick concept.  It's got some rough edges, for sure, but I loved the energy that it creates and there are lots of practical learning benefits for both the giver and the receiver.  

Energy, engagement and exploration

‘The New Science of Building Great Teams’ appeared in Harvard Business Review April 2012, p61-70.

I'm very interested in the research done at MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory and Sociometric Solutions on what differentiates great teams.  Their approach captures data to measure 1) how team members contribute to a team as a whole (Energy) 2) how team members communicate with one another (Engagement) and 3) how teams communicate with one another (Exploration).  It's most startling and interesting claim is that productive teams have certain data signatures - a mix of the energy, engagement and exploration practices - that are so consistent that they can predict a team's success simply by looking at the data without ever meeting its members.  Their data gathering processes are hard to replicate in everyday practice, however, keeping small, cheap and quick in mind, a lot could be done with a digital video camera, a tally sheet and some interviews. 


In no sense am I making a singular pitch for learning to always be small, cheap and quick.  Some of my best and deepest learning has come from the hard graft of working on my own, researching, reading, note taking and writing.   

However, in the workplace setting, it is time, or the lack of it, which is the greatest barrier to learning. Piccolo, Econimo, Rapido is a useful principle to work with to deliver results.  
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