Learning and development

How Silo-thinking Spreads, Smothers Synergy and Suffocates Strategy

Silo-thinking: even if unfamiliar with the term, you are likely familiar with its effects. That’s because the root of silo-thinking is differentiation and distinction. And this has consequences – conscious and unconscious.

You define any activity, role or responsibility according to predefined criteria, which may be shaped by the person, their applied skills and training or the way in which they create, use or adapt a system to carry out their assigned tasks. This is all well and good; only all too often we tend to identify ourselves by our roles and what we do. Even Aristotle (384-322 BCE) recognised this, as he is reputed to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” As result we, personally or collectively, tend to become:

  • Protective and – clinging to the adage that “knowledge is power” – erect barriers to ensure that we maximise the perceived value of what we offer, and thereby our status; and/or
  • Self-absorbed or unduly focused and single-minded, and thus uncooperative.  

Silo 65112347_s Copyright_a href_https_www_123rf_com_profile_eugenesergeevCollectively this may be at the individual business unit, functional or even divisional business unit rather than at the enterprise level. But when it occurs at the collective level – and is recognised – it is identified it as ‘silo-thinking.’ That’s when you start to take steps to remedy it.  Unfortunately, even when you do, you may not realise how pervasive and pernicious it is.

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How to ‘Bazooka VUCA’

VUCA 77215276_s Copyright www.123rf.com_profile_alphaspirit_alphaspirit

VUCA is an acronym increasingly widely used to describe the operating climate you, like most organizations, face today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This environment makes much of what you have learned about management obsolete and demands a new operating paradigm. A bazooka, as you may know, is a portable, electrically fired, rocket launcher for launching a projectile against tank armour.

Bazooka 43769439_s 123rf.comThe headline is a parody of a UK television advertisement for a brand of medical gel used to treat warts that calls for you to “Bazuka™ that Verruca!” By making a pun out of their brand name, the advertisers are attempting to convince you that their product will quickly and effectively exterminate your problem. VUCA is not so one-dimensional. Yet, while retaining the onomatopoeia and, hopefully, some sense of that imperative, my headline aims, rather, to alert you to the fact that you can still ‘blow up’ VUCA. 

An article from Chief Executive magazine Can you do VUCA? 5 Key Strategies for Success offers a good starting point. It not only explains VUCA and its ramifications but also clearly spells out proven, useful strategies for “doing” it.  These, however, will only take you so far. They are only strategies and, as you know only too well, there is a big difference between developing a strategy and implementing it. I am offering you something that will significantly strengthen your implementation arsenal.

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Organizational Synergy through Empowerment and Teamwork

Synergy 2 70506596_s Copyright_123rf.com_profile_mike107'Synergy. That is a word that may not seem to be as popular or prolific as it once was. Yet that doesn’t make it any less relevant. Like any leader, you are likely facing the imperative to improve productivity and performance and do more with less. (It may be a new year but that does not mean your challenges are all new!) And, what is performance improvement but a quest for greater synergy?

Empowerment is another widely used term. One that hasn’t lost its popularity to the same extent, perhaps because of its promise. The difference is that synergy is an outcome – something you have to work hard to achieve – while empowerment is held up to be the magic formula for creating synergy. So, how successful have your empowerment initiatives been?

If they have not delivered, or even come close to delivering, the results you were expecting or had hoped for, let me share a few ideas that might resurrect your hopes, re-inspire your efforts and reinvigorate your results.

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From Change Management to Change Mastery

Mastery 1 123rf.com_50144423_sChange is a fact of life. It is also a major factor in it. Increasingly so. Both the amount of change and the faster pace of change are widely acknowledged. No doubt you feel it yourself. Just imagine what somebody who died only 40-50 years ago would think if they were to come back today (as I sometimes do with my father.) And, in his book “Leading Change”, John Kotter claims that this is not going to slow down soon, but rather speed up! This makes the future daunting. 

Change is supposed to make life easier. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, especially initially. It takes time to familiarise yourself with, and adapt to, the new; let alone master it.  So when change comes fast and furious, proficiency becomes elusive and mastery next to impossible.  This is discouraging, demotivating and stressful. It is no wonder so many change initiatives are unsuccessful.

More frightening, however, is that the sheer volume of change makes it seem highly unlikely the proportion of successful change will improve. (The fact that this sad statistic hasn’t changed in decades, despite greater focus on change management, seems to support this prognosis.) Yet there is a way you can beat the odds. The answer is actually implied in “Leading Change,” but – ironically – has not been fully understood or applied.

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Breaking the Barriers to Change

Breaking Barriers 123rf.com 7805513_sChange has been endemic in business for decades. Yet identifying, initiating and implementing it successfully has never been straightforward and results almost invariably fall short of expectations. All too often this failure is attributed to employees’ reluctance to change and thus labelled “change resistance.” This is a phenomenon that is perhaps more easily understood when you consider the non-business changes we are encountering now.

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A Key to Optimising Your Human Capital

The perpetual balancing act between selfishness and selflessness, or self-interest and group-interest, is evolutionarily fundamental. So much so that it has been described as “The Paradox of Being Human.” Thus, while I have written about it before, I have not stopped thinking about it and it remains integral to everything I do. Recently, I have been seeking a way to portray it more effectively, and, in the spirit of “a picture being worth a thousand words”, more graphically.

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Strategy and Your People: How to Sustain Success

Striding towards success 14815469_sRecently I came across an article in the July-August 2015 Harvard Business Review entitled, “People before Strategy.” (I am not sure the link will work, but you can try clicking here to read it for yourself.) I was particularly struck by the sub-title, “A New Role for the CHRO”, for my immediate response was “How many organisations have a CHRO?”

I guess to some extent that is the intended response. Certainly the useful summary table provided in the article infers this.

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The Power of Ownership

Ownership 33960354_s“Mine!”  Who hasn’t heard a young child say that? The concept of ownership is one of our most primitive senses.  Indeed, I once read that the difference between North American and South American history, (both colonised around the same time) could be attributed to the encouragement of land ownership stimulating the greater development of the North.    

Be that as it may, you would have some difficulty arguing against the idea that ownership is an integral part of capitalism. The concepts of limited liability and the lasting, legal persona of the corporation would not have been possible, or nearly as successful, without distributed ownership and the amelioration of risk it created. So much so, that you might even argue that ownership is the heart of capitalism. Which is why it is strange that so little has been done to make employees owners. Even stranger – and certainly ironic – is that efforts to encourage this are sometimes seen as socialism!  

In fact, making your employees co-owners of your business has to be the ultimate in capitalism. Why? Because it also gives them a stake in the outcome. This makes it more personal. It gives them the pride of possession. Now, instead of simply being ‘servants of the organisation’ they become ‘partners in our organisation.’

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Talking Heads or Turning Heads?

Of course you are not a talking head. But are you – or any members of your team – in danger of becoming one or being seen as one?

Talking Head 2 123rf.com_45293179_sA talking head is defined as “A person, especially a news reporter, an interviewer, an expert, etc., who appears on television in a close-up, hence essentially as a bodiless head.”  Unless you are a regular on the screen this might not seem to apply to you! Yet, as we all get so busy and obsessed with targets, deadlines and performance measures, heads start ruling hearts and we risk becoming metaphorical talking heads. This is not good.

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How Love at Work Transforms Performance

“Fortune favours the bold.” Or, perhaps Queen Elizabeth I’s legendary rendering of the sentiment as “Faint heart never won fair maiden”, may be more appropriate here. But, whichever statement you prefer, it’s true. After finally unveiling 'Love at Work' after hesitating for several months, I now question why I did. The response has been entirely positive.

That is not to say it has been overwhelming, but perhaps that is hardly surprising, if you fail to see the benefits immediately apparent. So let me take this opportunity to try to explain 'Love at Work' in a way that I hope will get you as excited about it as I am. The diagram should help, even though it does take some explaining.

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