Crowdsourcing Leadership Development

Or The Organization Chart is Dead! Long Live Networks!

My recent blog on Why Training is a Dead End got a lot of attention and response – both positive and negative. A majority of commenters concurred that the standard model of classroom training has not been effective. We have known for a while that most development occurs informally by navigating challenging experiences laced with interactions with key others. When I ask learners about the first step they take when faced with a new challenge, the response is invariably, “I go talk to someone” or “I go talk to <name of a specific person>.”

There is also growing evidence from Organization Network Analysis that the strength/quality/volume of the informal connections in an organization drives overall performance. High-Performing and High-Potential employees not only do their job well but also help others succeed. And the network connections this support for others creates never seems to follow the lines (or dotted lines) on the org chart.

It seems obvious then that capitalizing on networks can be a real opportunity, particularly as a tool to develop individual and organizational competency.

Before the advent of the online social world, I worked at a company where I created Competency Brown Bag sessions. We assembled cohorts of leaders (didn’t call them cohorts back then) who were working on Individual Development Plans. We would select a specific competency that was a common need and then facilitate a discussion about the skill – what does the skill look like, what examples have they seen of someone using the competency effectively or ineffectively and what was the impact of their behavior, what assignments or experiences would help in developing the competency, what articles or books have they read that were helpful, etc. The cohorts then selected something from this “face-to-face blog” to add to their Development Plans. The Brown Bags were very popular and lead to meaningful impacts on skills and careers.

I am now seeing companies creating online communities that mirror the Brown Bags. Once mission-critical competencies have been identified and built into talent processes, the companies encourage volunteer communities to pop-up around the key skill sets. Crowd -Sourcing Development can dramatically multiply the effect I saw from the Brown Bags. Learners don’t have to wait for a meeting and can get information, support and ideas 24/7. The learners may also create their own cohort and meet virtually or face-to-face. If you were employed at Facebook, you’d probably call this “Hacking on Competence.”

Crowdsourcing Development is also a great addition to the growing trend to eliminate standard performance reviews and to replace them with more employee self-serve processes with an emphasis on quality conversations, regular feedback and self-development planning. Talent Management can also mine the crowd discussions for additional tools and support ideas.

The proverbial Grapevine matters and can be leveraged. Leaders need to understand the importance of networks and accurately understand how their organization network operates or if their networks are dysfunctional. Leader’s who demand that the chain of command be followed or who are threatened by informal leadership should be discouraged or removed. Employees should be recognized for and encouraged to not only focus on their jobs but to do whatever they can to help others succeed.

I think my posting will be on “The Job Description is Dead! Long live <????>”


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