Unicredit’s P-Squared Approach: Integrating Learning into Work - Guest Blog

​Usually organisations use experts/consultants to assess the challenges and problems that managers/employees are facing and then design a program to develop new skills to fill the gaps that are identified.

This however was not our way.

We instead brought in a respected anthropologist ‘to observe what was happening in the branches’.

Her fresh eyes saw that “many managers believed their role to be to solve problems, and had no idea about teaching people, so they don’t really help to learn how to improve performances”. However, perhaps the most significant issue she highlighted was that “learning doesn’t have any ‘sex appeal’”.

She also noted that “a lot of the language doesn’t help, when people talk of ‘performance gaps’ and ‘competencies’ you can see immediate closure from people in their body-language. They go on the defensive and put up barriers”.

While the concept that telling people they were going to ‘learn’ at specific events or sessions can be detrimental to the learning outcome has been understood by learning experts for some time, transferring that observation to the normal working environment was a profound step.

The observation that people’s attention and energy immediately transfers to defending themselves, protecting their identities and positions during perfectly benign performance reviews or mentoring sessions from their bosses, highlighted the fact that a different method had to be found to enable skills to be developed and performance enhanced within the branch network.

The common practices clearly didn’t work as one would believe. Identifying champions and promoting them as role models sounds logical…… but this very approach undermines the participant’s confidence and does not create the right state-of-mind for them to learn, to challenge themselves and try out new things.

So, having seen that the current way didn’t work, we set about looking for what conditions would.

We carried out observations between September and the end of 2011 and my team started to analyse the results and interpret the observations in the early months of 2012. We closely examined the power of peer-to-peer conversations where there was no champion or teacher. The critical thing was that with two colleagues of equal status discussing how they handle similar situations in their own different ways, really looking at the details, the focus changed from being a learning process to being a mutual performance improvement one.

Starting from several insights such as this we developed a new approach that we called P SQUARED because it is focused on ‘performance and people’ and the opportunity to create added value for the organisation is exponential.

The key to P2 is the identification and setting of performance goals – and this can be done at quite a local level, so that the process can be as relevant as possible for each area – although it can also reflect the key group values of UniCredit, too.

What we most like about the P2 process is that it is entirely natural. We know that people learn best by doing. As an additional benefit, the program has no external cost. There is a time element involved in making it work. That is unavoidable – but this is not a ‘learning program’. It is a new way of working. It is not an additional process. It is fully integrated into what people do. It is their job. It is about getting the best results for customers and for the bank.

The roll-out of the P2 process has been closely monitored. We have measured the results across a range of business metrics such as sales of personal loans, amount of cross-selling, quantity of money invested from customer portfolios etc. We have compared these to a control sample group where the process had not been used.

While it is still being run on a pilot base (with 450 people involved in more than 30 districts) the results are outstanding both on quantitative and qualitative aspects.


Anna Simioni, Executive Vice President, UniCredit, Head of Corporate Learning