The First Two Steps Toward Breaking Down Silos in Your Organization
Editor's Note: This post was written with Mark Sebell and Jay Terwilliger, managing partners of Boston-based Creative Realities, Inc.
When we ask executives, What is the number one innovation killer at your company?
, one of the first words we always hear, always, is "silos!" Recently, one executive even muttered, "fortresses."
Business silos, just like agricultural silos hold something important and make it hard to get at. That's good when you're protecting wheat and corn from rain & snow. But it's bad when you're trying to innovate across departments and divisions. And the bigger the company the more harmful a role silos play. Silos create an environment where sharing and collaborating for anything other than one silo's special interests is virtually impossible.
Innovation is the Trojan Horse that can be sent in to break down silos. But this can only work if the leaders do what they're supposed to do: embrace change.
Remember this! Companies don't change because they want to. They change because they are forced to by customers, by competition, by advances in science and technology, and by government regulation. Only when change is being forced upon the enterprise will people seek, give, and accept help.
But it doesn't work unless leadership leads, and helps everyone understand why change and innovation must happen and why they need to work together in new and different ways toward a common goal. Here are the first two critical steps in breaking down silos:
- Creating a Compelling Case for Innovation
- Creating a Fully Aligned Strategic Innovation Agenda
Let's start with creating the compelling case for innovation. Try to guess who said the following, and when:
It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarm-ness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who does not truly believe in anything new until they have had experience of it.
Notice how so much of what resists change is embedded in the culture, in protecting what is rather than getting excited about what could be. The quote was from Niccolo Machiavelli, in 1513. And not much has changed in 500 years! Only by inspiring the entire organization with a compelling case for why it needs to change in order to insure the future health and growth of the enterprise...and job security (what's in it for me?) will anyone be willing to play with speculation, risk-taking and newness.
So what does a compelling case for innovation have to do with silos? It's the wheels on the Trojan Horse we want to send past those impenetrable walls of "how we do things around here." It gets things moving.
The second critical success factor is a fully aligned strategic innovation agenda. Now that management has visibly engaged everyone in why innovation is critical to their future, what must happen next? Our favorite quote when it comes to innovation strategy is from the Cheshire Cat to Alice in Wonderland: "If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there." Most senior managements fear that giving strategic guidance to their organizations will stifle their creativity and their willingness to "think outside the box."
In the immortal words of Colonel Sherman Potter, "Horse Hockey!"
An innovation agenda creates necessity, inspires people to work together, and in the best cases it demands that they do. That's why President Kennedy's challenge to NASA was so brilliant: "By the end of the decade, we will put a man on the moon and safely return him to earth." NASA had no choice; they had to collaborate every day in order to do something no one had ever done before. The silos came tumbling down.
Is silos a big issue in your organization? We have identified two cures for busting the silos. You must have tried other successful strategies. Can you share them?
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