Could Your Organization Practice Open Allocation?

Alexandra Levit, Managing Partner, PeopleResults
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Gore & Associates.



What do these companies have in common? Well, besides the fact that they are forward-thinking, pioneering firms, they all practice a leadership style called open allocation. In open allocation, employees select how to spend their time and the projects on which they’ll work. There is no such thing as hierarchy. In an open allocation culture, employees are accountable to the business and to their peers. As long as they can show that they’re contributing value, they can switch assignments whenever they want – there are no managers or rules about headcount to hold them back.

Self-Directed, Self-Managed

In an open allocation scenario, teams essentially manage themselves and are only temporary. The concept reminds me of Gartner’s swarming idea, in which a project group forms based on expertise and interest and then disbands when its goal is accomplished. Rather than an executive calling for a new team, the informal leader is the employee who came up with the idea for the project – tenure or “rank” aside. A new strategic initiative will only get off the ground if the “leader” can convince others to invest their time, talent, and resources.

No Blame, More Gain

The benefits of open allocation are many. Decisions are smarter and better informed because the people making them are closer to the work, and employees can provide input free of strict, inflexible communication channels. Team members are automatically more motivated because they wouldn’t have chosen to work on a project if they didn’t believe in it and weren’t excited about it upfront. And if they are unhappy, they have to recognize that it’s because of their own choices rather than a managerial mandate. Instead of leaving the company, they just move on to another project.

Finally, organizations are more productive because they don’t have to hire “managers” whose “work” is simply to direct other people, and they are more efficient because they don’t have bureaucratic naysayers preventing a promising idea from getting off the ground.

Still a Pipe Dream for Most?

Open allocation is not a new philosophy. Deloitte introduced the concept of mass career customization back in 2007, and manager-free companies (mostly technology start-ups) have been popping up ever since. But it hasn’t quite caught on in the mainstream. Why?

The answer lies in the assumptions that must be made about employees in an open allocation environment. First of all, as a group they must be highly intelligent, driven, and competent, and not all organizations are primarily composed of such individuals. Some organizations are regulated to such a degree that they are mandated to staff their teams in a particular way, or they are beholden to external forces – like stockholders or clients – who want certain skilled individuals assigned to pre-determined teams. Open allocation also makes it tough to find and document objective instances of underperformance, so you can’t easily can employees who aren’t cutting it.

Think about your business and your employee composition. Would an open allocation model work for you? Is it within HR’s jurisdiction to get the ball rolling?

We all want to help our employees be their best.  Take a look at these 15 Ways to Take Your Employees Further.

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