breakdown silos

Does it ever seem like the pieces aren’t fitting together correctly at your company? It’s not that the work isn’t getting done, or that any one department or team is failing. It’s more that this powerful business machine is losing horsepower, and it’s not entirely clear why. There’s a disconnect — or maybe several disconnects — somewhere, and it’s starting to create a serious drag on the entire business.

If the above scenario hits home, then you’re right. There is a disconnect, and it’s a bigger problem that you may realize.

As a successful company grows, the pressure on that business also increases. The external pressures tend to be more obvious — competition, customer acquisition, expansion costs — and as a result it’s easier for the company leadership to respond to. It’s the internal pressures that often go overlooked. The first tiny cracks are easy to ignore, but unless they’re dealt with, these fissures only grow over time.

How it Started

Maybe it starts with something small, like the customer service and sales teams wanting to have their own customer records. Perhaps one manager doesn’t like the way the company’s CRM stores prospect data, and keeps their own records on an ever-growing Excel spreadsheet. It could even be that the COO and the CFO prefer to use their own reporting software, requiring two parallel systems that pull from similar, but slightly different, sources. Over a long enough time, most companies will build up hundreds of little eccentricities like these. Individually, they may seem harmless, but each one represents another fracture in the system.

Most of these fractures are ultimately about controlling the flow of information. They create little strongholds — known as silos — where individual people or groups can limit access to company data. This usually isn’t done for any nefarious purpose, but it does have the effect of creating an increasingly disconnected workforce.

So, what can your company do about it? How can you break down these silos, repair these fractures, and get the engine that drives your organization back to operating at full power once again? What role does technology play in repairing the damage?

Understanding the Disconnected Workforce

Why do these fractures and silos form in the first place? Most of the time, they happen as a result of fairly mundane stresses and pressures within the company. To understand why, let’s simplify the business into three fundamental layers: C-suite, frontline workers, and middle management.

The C-suite is responsible for making the big decisions that drive the company. They develop the long-term strategies, the major partnerships, and the overall vision for where the business is headed. Sometimes they make those decisions based on a fairly limited set of data — often specially prepared reports that focus in a handful of KPIs. This can result in blind spots when it comes to things those reports don’t cover. This lack of visibility into the company’s operations can be a real problem, particularly when this overlooked data tells a different story than the C-suite’s grand plans. As a result, the C-suite doesn’t always have a strong incentive to focus on the more mundane, practical issues faced by the rest of the company.

Frontline workers are on the other side of the equation. They have almost no control over the operation or direction of the business, and they have no ability to make meaningful changes. They use the tools and technology they are given to do the tasks they are assigned. Their jobs can be tough, and their wages and job security typically come from meeting assigned targets. As a result, they don’t have a strong incentive to draw attention to any problems or inefficiencies they encounter, as they’re just trying to make it through the work day. Worse yet, their opinions are not always asked on how to create a more efficient workflow.

This brings us to the middle managers, who are tasked with enacting the C-suite’s decisions while still delivering the expected results from frontline workers. When something goes awry, no matter how big or small, they tend to get the brunt of the blame. Managers also may get pitted against each other, so they fight for the resources they need to deliver the results the C-suite expects. Not surprisingly, they tend to be protective when it comes to sharing data about the performance of their teams.

Everyone in this simple model has at least some motivation to overlook, ignore, or even obscure some kinds of important information. They also have reasons to keep information to themselves, even if it would help the company to make that information available. Why enter information you don’t absolutely have to as a sales rep? Who wants to draw attention to a troubling customer trend as a manager? Why even share information between departments if it might reflect badly on your team? Why not protect that data, and limit access to it? Should it just stay safely in your silo?

All of this hoarding of data creates disconnects — little fractures and cracks — across the entire company. In a real company, with many more layers of complexity, the number of these disconnects can be exponentially larger. It’s becomes clear when you have a disconnected workforce.

So how do you break down these silos?

Breaking Down the Silos

As with so many things, the first step is admitting that there’s a problem. This can be hard to do, particularly when the company is successful. Given enough time, however, these fractures will start to have serious impacts on customer satisfaction, employee productivity, company reputation, and (eventually) profitability. That’s why it’s always best to fix these problems while they’re still relatively small and inexpensive.

Breaking down silos means replacing these cracked, broken systems with something specifically designed to get that company data flowing again. This means having clearly defined, concrete workflows that take the motivations of every stakeholder and user into account. It also means creating a unified framework — killing all those internal databases, spreadsheets, and prospect lists locked away on a manager’s computer, for instance — that provides real visibility into the company’s operations.

This can be a tough sell. Everyone at your company has gotten used to the piecemeal collection of software that they currently use, and many of them will be reluctant to switch to something new. This will happen at every level — from grumbling salespeople to “I didn’t mean men” C-suite members — but it’s absolutely essential that everyone buy into the new solution.

On a practical level, this disconnected workforce issue is solved by finding the right technology, and developing a careful, step-by-step plan for implementing it.

Creating the Unified Tech Stack

Every company will have unique needs when it comes to business technology. Some companies will need little more than a new CRM solution and training in how to use it. Others will need a full suite of integrations — ERP, CRM, marketing automation, AI-sentiment analysis, virtual office — to meet all their needs. It’s not really about creating a specific tech stack. It’s about finding the right technology for your needs. The goal is to build a strong, silo-smashing framework that solves the company’s problems while also delivering complete visibility into its operations.

There are other key elements — careful data migration, integration with other business systems, and the all-important step of training — that also play a role in the success of these new anti-silo initiatives. The system has to work for everyone, and at every level.

If it’s not done correctly, even the most comprehensive (and expensive) tech solutions will ultimately result in the quiet, slow return of the same old silos. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to find the right business technology partners for your company’s needs.

If your company is looking to repair its disconnected workforce, and establish a better system where silos simply can’t exist, it’s essential to get right on the first try. We can help. Contact Faye today for a no-risk consultation.