As a sales performance consultant, I’ve recently seen several enterprise level proposals stalled or killed, as well as already embedded methodologies sidetracked by shiny new initiatives from other functional groups. As I took a minute from the ground tactics to see the larger picture, I noticed a few trends that are impacting organizational improvement initiatives. And, I saw some of our old and familiar issues that are still alive and well: silos.
How silos stifle organizations
Organizational silos are not new. They’ve been around for a few decades. What’s surprising is their resurgence at a time when organizations have spent large sums of money and resources on solutions trying to fix these problems. A little Wikipedia research yields a list of the many agricultural farm silos that exist, my favorite is the low-oxygen tower silos.
Low-oxygen silos are designed to keep the contents in a low-oxygen atmosphere at all times and to keep the fermented contents in a high-quality state to prevent mold and decay. The problem with these types of silos is that combustion can happen if the fermentation process produces both nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide.
How does this agricultural silo reference align with my organizational observations?
Current organizational silos are low oxygen entities that can be noxious for organizational growth.
Organizational silos form when departmental employees develop more loyalty to their group than to the employer. Trust suffers. Communication suffers. Teamwork and collaboration suffer. Innovations suffers. Customers suffer. However, the competition can thrive against this dysfunction.
I am seeing a lack of direction from leadership that gives tacit permission for employees to form silos. Good leadership can help everyone understand why change and innovation must happen, and the ROI for teams to commit to working together. In the absence of good senior leadership, functional leaders will naturally grab influence and push their own agenda and projects. In the search for answers, organizations are bringing in new leaders who often, unfortunately, have their own functional silo preferences and are skilled at redirecting budgets and resource to those preferences. And, the cycle repeats itself. According to Harvard Business Review writer Vijay Govindarajan, the number one innovation killer are silos or fortresses.
How to spot a silo
Leadership mantras must help people to reframe from protecting what is and begin to embrace what it could be. CMS Newsletter writer Kaya Ismail suggests five ways to recognize organizational silos, and the one that I see most vividly at the moment is broken customer experiences. Who is, or should be, paying attention to the larger customer experience? Even in this era of buyer personas and buyer journeys, there are still strong silos preventing real innovation. An optimistic frontier needs to be built around a cross-functional, customer-focused enablement approach.
The future belongs to organizations who can attract and develop the caliber of leader capable of this new reality.
According to Tamara Schenk of CSO Insights, organizations must pay more attention to customer path alignment. What does a customer’s path alignment really mean? It means how well you included the customer’s decision steps and gates in your internal processes. An example: a sales organization only looks at internal criteria that are important to them in the early stages of their sales process (e.g., decision makers, budget, time frame) instead of including customer-related criteria (e.g., is the problem an individual pain, or is there a group of stakeholders that wants to change the current state, criteria that drive their decision to change the current state, etc.)
Breaking down silos with strong leadership
It’s been interesting to watch the new leadership roles and titles that are emerging in response to these challenges. VP of Sales Enablement, Chief Sales Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, Chief “TBD” Officer, are a few of these new titles. How these new roles will drive revenue, customer engagement and customer loyalty is yet to be seen.
It’s all about leadership. This new leader needs to be steeped in the functional areas of sales, marketing and service, and they need to understand how to enable these functions to support the customer life cycle.
These new leaders need to know how to leverage analytics in order to prioritize and resource these same functions. They need to know how to build a learning and feedback-based organization. Oh, and they also need to be an expert in change management. It’s a tall order, but in lieu of this type of leadership, silos will continue to rule the day. My challenge to younger emerging leaders, who are our future, is to find the leadership development programs and education that can support this career path, work for organizations and leaders that show innovation for this type of path, and be relentless in your pursuit.
We need high oxygen leadership that can create positive combustion within the organization.