A Fred Nickols Perspective on HPT – Back In 1990

In his article, “Human Performance Technology: The End of an Era” published in the FORUM section of Human Resources Development Quarterly in 1990, Fred Nickols wrote:

Even when we succeed in pinning down and documenting knowledge work, especially of the clerical or quasi-clerical variety, it is then generally capable of being carried out by a computer, which creates a problem much bigger than the one of improving human productivity; namely, What do we do with the people?

Most important, the agents of management (e.g., trainers, performance technologists, and work design-redesign specialists) can no longer engineer the performance or the productivity of knowledge work at the level of individual tasks. Remember: knowledge work must be configured not prefigured.
It is the day-to-day stuff of leading people, not of managing them or their work, that really affects productivity; it’s the hand-holding, the encouraging, the going to bat for people, and the sharing of the hardships, the risk, the recognition, and the rewards that tempts people to contribute and sustains them as they strive for excellence. These leadership behaviors must themselves be configured not prefigured. In other words, conformity at the executive level is as deadly as compliance at the working level.

To sum it up, the era of compliance has ended, and with it has ended the dream of engineering individual human performance. The era of individual contribution has just begun and we don’t even have a vocabulary suited to discuss the issue let alone formulate decisions and then carry them out.
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Great article.

I agree with the need for HPT to not focus on the Individual Performer. And for it to look beyond training and motivation. That is why I was involved with the ISPI Task Force to Clarify HPT.
I got started on that effort when I kept getting an inconsistent answer to my questioning of ISPI members (back in 2002-3) as to whether of not Six Sigma was a component of HPT. Or is HPT “just” performance-based ISD? Along with Motivation.

Today ISD, Motivation and many other Intervention Types, are considered by many members to be part of the solution-set that HPT might identify to design or fix enterprise processes and systems from a systematic and systemic approach. As Don Tosti preaches, HPT is not just about repair.

Fred is still active in ISPI. See his web site.
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