10 not-so-obvious signs of silos

Large farms are the only businesses where more silos mean increased productivity. The rest of us need practice and extra vigilance in spotting and eradicating them.

Silos manifest themselves daily, undermining profits, performance and productivity, costing millions. The secret to breaking down silos: Accept the fact you have silos. To deny that you have silos is to create more silos. Once you admit the problem, you can reduce losses and optimize your potential.

Silos have different meanings. Senior executives inhabit a silo labeled “profits”—management lives in a “performance” silo—employees dwell in the “productivity” (or “paycheck”) silo.

The 10 signs of silos from C-Suite to cubicle:.

1. I’m giving my two-weeks’ notice (Turnover): If you lose top talent to competitors or your great new hires fail to meet expectations, it’s a sign of silos. If top talent leaves or you can’t recruit the best, it’s a by-product of silos that constrict talent.

2. The company thanks me with a paycheck (Bureaucracy): If you have many employees who feel disenfranchised, they’re working for a paycheck, marking time 40 hours a week, coasting and undermining morale and culture.

3. Those guys at corporate don’t get it (Step-Child): The farther your associates work from HQ, the more silos come into play, causing non-compliance, ineffectiveness and inconsistent practices.

4. Those guys outside of corporate don’t get it (Potomac Fever): The closer to the top you get, the further you are from solving problems. The most powerful silo is executive hubris. It creates blinders. More formality, more reports, more meetings, and less feel for the workforce give birth to silos.

5. Another employee survey? (Night Light): Too many surveys look for satisfaction. They rarely solicit input to help employees find meaning and purpose in their work. Most employees see the survey as management trying to use a night light to illuminate the entire house. Surveys mostly reaffirm negative perceptions of corporate as out of touch. Employees think surveys are taken to cover someone’s backside.

6. Meeting about meetings ? (Double Jeopardy): Wonder why you have so many meetings? It’s obvious: silos. Getting in the same room and communicating may keep silos outside that room temporarily, but it only strengthens them. Too many meetings mean that work suffers, deadlines get missed and stress destroys performance.

7. Employee of the month (Shooting Stars): Recognizing employees who go the extra mile is good, but a formalized program is counter-productive. For every EOM, nine employees feel overlooked. Perceptions of brown-nosing, gaming the system and “managers’ pet” build silos. Random recognition breaks down these silos.

8. That’s not how we do it here (Step-Child): Whether you work on the other side of the globe, in the country or in the department next door, corporate policies are too theoretical when you must do your job. You call it improvising or getting the job done. Which came first, the silo or the egg?

9. That’s not in my job description (Anti-Hero): Ever come across someone more focused on what he or she isn’t supposed to do than on what needs to be done? It’s either a clunker of a hire or an employee who has taken on too much work and simply burned out. Regardless, it’s a silo that started with the job description and hire.

10. Can you re-send the email? (Machine Gunner): They sent an email days ago and it never got read or you didn’t see it in your inbox. Ever happen? If so, it’s evidence of a silo. It’s usually someone who complains they get over 200 emails a day—maybe you. Yes, it says you’re very busy, but it also warns of key information getting lost or overlooked. This leads to delayed productivity and missed deadlines.

These 10 signs mean that the corporate structure needs renovation. If there are almost as many silos as employees, leaders and managers must identify the systems, processes and practices that fail to empower the majority of the workforce.

The solutions to silos are found within the organization. Yes, it’s about the organizational culture, but silos begin in command & control management and end in workers punching the clock. The key is where to begin and depends on the type of organization you have.

The more you notice silos, the more ability you gain in breaking them down. You must put in a system that empowers and engages.

A version of this article first appeared on Patrick Slevin’s blog.


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