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Theory Into Practice: Say "So Long" to Silos, Part 4

Gayle Loving

Principal, The Pearn Group

In our previous installments of Say "So Long" to Silos (check them out here, here and here), we focused on talent management processes and real-world workforce situations. We looked at silos directly affecting the employee and those affecting the cost to fill positions.

In this final part of the series, our focus is on how talent silos impact the successful execution of business strategy and ultimately, business outcomes. The highest level of maturity in Talent Management requires talent processes and the HR organization to be fully integrated with business, not only facilitating the execution of the business strategy, but driving it.

Does This Sound Familiar? A Recruiting Fire Drill

Let’s take a look at another fictitious company, TECH, a global technology company whose focus for the last year has been developing new products to replace other products entering the last stage of their lifecycle. TECH’s customers are very sophisticated with deep technical expertise. Therefore developing products requires that, upon release, customer support professionals have significant technical expertise on the product specs in order to provide the support customers expect.

TECH’s manager of customer service, Barbara, gets pulled into a meeting and is told that she has to have support ready for a new product in four weeks. This product, called XC45 has been in development and testing for over a year. "No one could tell me three months ago that I needed to hire an extra 10 people!?"

Now Barbara has to pull her most senior people off their current work and train them in record time. "I cannot backfill their positions and have the new personnel ready in two weeks."

Barbara goes to her recruiter, Jason, who tells her that they may be able to get some temps to help. Jason thinks to himself, "If I would have known about this – I could have built a pipeline of external candidates and we could have brought them on in time to have them trained. I could have even built a talent pool of internal candidates that could have been developed to be ready. Now we are going to pay a premium for support resources and potentially impact our existing customers."

Silos Lead to Poor Resource Planning

Okay, so TECH may have to pay for external support resources. What else might result from this lack of resource planning? When a customer purchases the new product and has a question or an issue, or if customer support cannot provide the level of technical support customers require, the success of the product may be impacted. Word will go out within the tech industry that there are issues and maybe some customers will go to a competitor. In this particular industry, bad press can impact the company’s image for years to come.

This silo is a fairly common one that has significant consequences beyond increased costs. Often, business units do not think about how staffing and planning for headcount (or lack thereof) will affect the successful execution of strategic plans. Without the resources to execute, the plan stops short. HR needs to be at the table to understand the business plans and help leaders understand the lead time for having resources ready to hit the ground running.

Seeing the Interconnectivity

Many of you are thinking: "Removing the silos from these business scenarios is way above my pay grade." Well – yes and no. One way individuals can overcome their tendencies toward silos it to use systems thinking. I think the best definition comes from Virginia Anderson and Lauren Johnson in their book Systems Thinking Basics, "a school of thought that focuses on recognizing the interconnections between the parts of a system and synthesizing them into a unified view of the whole." Some key points include:

  • You do not "own" your area. Be open-minded about input from others regardless of your title or expertise.

  • It just MIGHT be your job. Don’t be a slave to your job description. You actions and decisions impact others and ultimately you share accountability for performance of the organization.

  • Knowledge TRANSFER is power. You might actually achieve the influence and status you want by becoming a source of useful information. Help others become better and you will be better. Keep others regularly informed and frequently share your ideas.

Moving Theory into Practice

If you are in a position to tackle broader issues within your organization here are some tips for helping break down silos:

  • Effectively implementing the first tip can result in meeting hell in some cases. Too much input and/or the ineffective management of the meetings can make them an incredible time drain. Use effective meeting management techniques (agendas, facilitators, etc.) to avoid the possible negative repercussions that can result from expanding meeting participants.

Silos are formed when we get caught up in the day-to-day work of our area and our perspective narrows to just what is in front of us. By stepping back and looking across the system or organization, our perspective changes drastically.

If your organization does not have clear strategic goals – then get some (that is a whole other subject.)

If your organization has them, you already have the one tool that can break down silos. With clear strategy, silos have a common language around which to collaborate and collaboration IS the remedy.

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