Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Silos Happen? Part 1

Been a while since I posted about the competition. One reason is the competition has changed. It is no longer about this vendor versus that vendor but more insidious. It is now about Silos vs Openness.

In the past I may have painted a picture of a Silo company to look like many things but usually referred to them as Microsoft companies. Usually because Microsoft promoted the individual over the network and as an after thought provided a way to share the data. In contrast to Lotus which from the ground up was about sharing data and has been for over 20 years.

While I may have vented against the Silo companies and the people that thrive on that culture, think an evil pointy haired boss instead of just incompetent, there may be companies that have become Silo organizations purely by accident and have no idea they did it.

I was on a conference call today that sparked a number of questions and one which I am pondering in this post....can you become a Silo organization by accident?

The simple answer is of course, no. Someone or something puts other wheels in motion and before long the car is roaring down the highway with the dog's tongue hanging out the window.

As David Byrne once said, "Well, how did I get here?" This is the question. For if we can figure out this question properly, we can unravel possibly years of bad corporate culture and set you on a course of social enlightenment, beauty and enjoyment.

Most of the Social Media experts of course point out the benefits of a social enterprise. That is easy. They will tell you write a blog, post here, do this do that, but none of this will change a culture, let alone an executives mind set. Examples abound, best practices are in White Papers, but yet it does not hit home because in some cases it happened by accident over time.

To borrow a common idea, if you spent 10,000 hours being a Silo, how many hours will it take to reverse course? And if it was all by accident, now what?

Sales people will spend hours in meetings trying to gauge why an organization needs their product or will try to transform the enterprise but what if they get it wrong or are missing one key point.


No one wants to hear they are wrong or doing something seemingly proper only to find out they have been promoting a closed culture. Look around you at the businesses you frequent, the non-profits you assist, the schools your children attend. You can see the dichotomy and yet if you try to raise this awareness you may be pushed out or ignored. The reason is because management does not like to admit when they made a mistake and worse, if they are not sure how to get out of it, hate the messenger. This isn't about making the executive look bad, although usually their ego's are what makes them feel this way, when in fact they could be appreciative that someone has raised a potential problem of monumental meaning. It is about providing reasonable doubt that the companies efforts may be what is blocking their ability to embrace the cultural shift to openness.

In order to find that purpose again and revisit it, you need to ask some important questions. I suggest starting at the outer, peripheral items and work your way backwards. It is not a top down approach, but putting the executive in their own seat of a situation and having them see and feel the experience in a whole new way while trying to understand what the real purpose is behind the effort.

Walking in someone else's shoes is just the tip of the iceberg.


  1. Hi Keith, thanks much for putting together this rather insightful blog post and for the thought-provoking arguments on what it is like truly living social. I think you have indicated quite nicely what are some of the main challenges and how the focus on technology per se is just unsustainable, since we will just be shifting from one tool to another with the same mindset and therefore those silos will continue to exist as they are.

    We need to break the chain, making a mental shift of how we collaborate, share our knowledge, get work done. It's all a mindset. It's all shifting gears from a "Need to Know" basis to a "Need to Share" basis. From a "Need to manage my team to do what I want them to do" to "I need to help my team achieve their excellence by going the extra mile for them, not just for me". Yes, it's a tougher challenge, but it's the one for which the battle is worth while fighting for.

    In a way, it's a truly social business transformation of your own business to leave those necessary silos that you would want to keep using to protect your info, but breaking all of the other ones you don't need. Along the lines of what I hinted on this blog post not long ago.

    The challenge is not technology, nor the business, but our mindset, how we think about business, what we do at the end of the day to keep the business running and that's the main challenge of why there is still a lot of work to be carried out, because we haven't even touched the surface! :)

    Keep it up, Keith! Look forward to Part Deux!

  2. Luis, thanks for the comments. The surface is still rough indeed.