Crowd-sourcing succession planning: a solution to leadership woes?

Why leaders need to adopt “open source leadership"

The biggest development challenge for most leaders is the inability to let go of what they have traditionally done in the past, according to an expert in the area, who said that leaders need to get past this and adopt “open source leadership”.

This approach to leadership is about leading and managing in the “open source era” which we currently live in, said Rajeev Peshawaria, CEO of the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre and author of the bestseller Open Source Leadership.

This era is marked by two things: uber-connectivity, and uber-population.

“Everybody understands that everyone is connected 24/7, 365,” he said.

“Uber-population means that we are currently at 7.5 billion people today, and going up to 10 billion by 2060.

“So those are the two overarching factors that define the open source era.”

Peshawaria, who was speaking ahead of Skillsoft’s Perspectives 2018: The Age of Learning On-Demand conference, which will be held on Tuesday 22 May 2018 at The Star, Sydney.

Uber-connectivity is “obliterating traditional business models” in nearly every industry, according to Peshawaria, who said uber-population is also creating new markets and opportunities as well as daunting challenges for the planet as a whole.

This era of open source leadership has very significant implications for organisational leaders, who Peshawaria said are “totally exposed” and unprepared for change.

“The question is, are leadership and management practises keeping pace with everything that’s changing around the world in large companies?”

“Are leadership and management practises keeping pace with everything that’s changing around the world in large companies?”

Peshawaria, who has extensive global experience in leadership and organisational consulting and who also served as chief learning officer of both Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley, reiterated his point through direct audience feedback.

“When I typically speak in conferences, I start by asking people to raise their hands if they believe that technology has changed both business and social life beyond recognition, just in the past five to seven years,” he said.

“Without exception everyone raises their hand – no matter where in the world I’m speaking. “Then I ask them to raise their hands if they believe that leadership and management practises in large companies are evolving at an equal pace.

“And this time, no one raises their hand.

“So organisations are not utilising these concepts as much they should.

“There are a few companies that are getting it and are changing their services rapidly but unfortunately most are still clinging to the past,” he said.

The old approach to succession planning
An inability to let go of what they’ve done and how they’ve done things in the past is the biggest stumbling block for leaders in this regard, and Peshawaria gave the example of succession planning.

Many organisations still use a nine box grid of performance versus potential as the basis for assessing whether high-performing, high potentials should be groomed for succession into senior leadership roles in three to five years.

“There are a few companies that are getting it and are changing their services rapidly but unfortunately most are still clinging to the past”

However, the problem with this process begins with the assessment of potential, Peshawaria explained.

“They’re given personality tests, they’re given psychometric evaluations, they’re put through assessment centres and then a committee decides whether they are high potential or not.

“And then they end up in the top right hand box and these people are given stretch assignments, given coaches and mentors, and they’re sent to Harvard for training.

“All kinds of investments are made in them so that in a few years they can be future leaders of the company,” he said.

Boards also receive presentations from HR and management every year to provide updates on succession planning activity, key roles and high potentials that are being groomed for them.

However, in the open source era where 40 per cent of the US workforce is already opting for freelance/contract work, Peshawaria said there is no guarantee that people are going to stay with a company for five years.

“What is the guarantee that the skills we’re teaching potential leaders today through these expensive development options, are actually going to be skills needed five years from now?

“So the whole machinery of succession planning needs to be re-examined,” he said.

Crowd-sourcing succession planning
Peshawaria instead suggested a more organic approach to succession planning without excluding the bulk of the employee population (both full-time and contract).

“What if the CEO was to run an innovation contest every year, and anybody in the company that has any idea can participate voluntarily?” he said.

Workers would have to work on their own time and submit a detailed project by a certain date, with the top ten presented to the board or senior management – with the very best put into practise.

“The whole machinery of succession planning needs to be re-examined”

“Now, those people that raise their hand year-after-year without any pushing, who come up with great ideas – aren’t they your future leaders?

“Aren’t they screaming at the top of their lungs saying, ‘I can work hard, I’m willing to go the extra mile to show you my energy.’

“These are the people we should invest in, so what I’m suggesting here is an internal crowdsourcing approach to succession planning – rather than a forced method that we’ve been using all these years (which hasn’t produced the best results anyway).”

How HR can improve leadership development
This “let the cream rise to the top” philosophy has a number of implications for HR, who can either lead the leadership development transformation or be left behind, Peshawaria explained.

“The most progressive HR departments understand what is unfolding in the 4th Industrial Revolution, as some people call it, and are taking steps,” he said.

“The more freedom given to employees, the more productivity and responsibility you will get.

“The best employers are setting their employees free to do what they think is right, and allowing them the freedom to work as much or as little as each employee prefers – and pay accordingly.

“They’re even allowing unlimited vacations because they realised that, if somebody is burned out and they need three months off, it’s better to give it to them, rather than to start the recruiting process all over again,” said Peshawaria.

In the current open source era, people can choose how much or how little they want to work in a free agency market, and companies need to create and deploy systems and structures that allow this kind of freedom – or risk losing full-time employees to the free agent market.

“So HR needs to understand this, lead this transformation and come up with things that work for them in their context, rather than sort of resisting the tsunami of the 21st century change that’s already here,” said Peshawaria.

Peshawaria will be speaking at Skillsoft’s Perspectives 2018: The Age of Learning On-Demand conference, which will be held on Tuesday 22 May 2018 at The Star, Sydney. The event will provide attendees with industry insight from experts and thought leaders, as well as networking opportunities from HR and learning professionals from various sectors to discuss key HR & learning trends. For more information please visit the conference registration site. Image source: iStock