In mid-2009, as it became painfully evident that the global recession would be sustained and deep, my company, HCL Technologies, faced a significant dilemma. We'd been telling our 55,000 employees that they were the key to our success. But to reduce operational costs, it seemed certain that we were going to have to lay off hundreds of them.
That's when CEO VineetNayar told all employees point-blank that we had to cut expenses by $100 million, or cut jobs substantially. Faced with this challenge, it was our employees -- not the executive team -- that did something truly amazing. They banded together and developed 76 ideas to save the company $260 million with no layoffs. One significant idea was to abolish flextime hours, which led to a massive savings on electricity and transportation costs. This was the epitome of the "open source" leadership model in action.
Two years later, organizations around the world have come to appreciate that the latest addition to the workforce -- often referred to as Generation Y or Millennials -- are equipped with an irrepressible energy and the ability to suggest new and often radical ideas to attain success during times of great challenge. The example above underscores one key point -- employees sometimes just need to be asked for their opinion. For this reason, I believe that hierarchical leadership structures where ideas almost exclusively come from the very top are ill equipped to tackle today's organizational challenges as they discourage innovation, creativity, and accountability.
The message is seemingly simple: we must adapt to meet the aspirations of the upcoming generations if we intend to fully take advantage of, develop, and retain talented employees.
Consider Facebook. Organizationally, it is the vanguard of a dismantled traditional hierarchy. Instead of specific individuals holding leadership positions, different people step forward to lead, depending on the situation and their individual talents. The traditional leader at the apex then is given the critical responsibility of encouraging new leaders at every level.
Wikipedia is another great example of a prominent collaborative forum. Who would have believed that it could become a lifeline of knowledge, despite all attempts by academia to question its credibility?