Becoming a Silo Slayer

March 4, 2015 12:25 am

At Live Path, we pride ourselves in being asked back by our clients, year-after-year, to provide reliable counsel regarding their strategies and customer experiences.  One of the biggest problems we encounter are the ongoing “silo wars” that foster internal competition and behavior that often works to undermine the customer experience.  Since we started actively writing about this in 2005, very little has changed, and you can see these battles represented almost everywhere:

  • Bickering within a single marketing department, where different teams “own” different customer segments, and all have different strategies.
  • Infighting between sales and marketing teams that may not see eye-to-eye, or demonstrate mutual respect
  • Complaints by front-line customer service staff about perpetual problems that never get fixed by those responsible for them

Those are just a few examples.

Without question, the problems become proportionate to the size of the organization.   (Side note:  That’s one of the reasons we don’t embrace the idea that any organization is “too big to fail.”  Indeed, by failing, we learn.  Failure keeps us honest.  By protecting companies from failure, we rob them of their incentive to succeed by serving others well.)   However, whether a company is big or small, the silo wars are alive and well —  it doesn’t matter if there are 15,000 or 150 employees (or less, even).

What we almost unilaterally find is that a silo culture is perpetuated from the top down.   Perhaps part of this stems on the post-industrial business educations we’ve given people, which emphasize and reinforce silos.

While it’s different at each company… the basic process is the same.  Simply put, it’s typical to start at the C-level, where the senior exec issue mission/goal statements, establish strategic imperatives and revenue goals.  Then, from C-level down, executives are tasked with taking ownership of a portion of revenue generation, or managing a cost-center, etc.   Executives form their strategic plans, addressing these strategic mandates, and those plans (and accompanying tasks and assignments – along with KPI’s and metrics), flow down to employees.  It’s highly numbers and task driven focus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with tasks – they help people know what they need to do.  There’s nothing wrong with numbers, either.  They pay the rent (unless you’re in the red).  The problem is, while lofty goals and mission statements abound, the strong emphasis on tasks and numbers focus, combined with the fact that management continues to push harder for results, can have a detrimental result.  We can unwittingly build cultures where people will do almost anything to check the boxes on their task lists … and will try anything to drive the numbers.  Sadly, this can sometimes mean true strategic focused is sacrificed — teamwork is compromised, and sometimes, goals are attained by manipulation and/or compromising the business in other areas.  Many employees find it hard to take the time to stop and “be strategic” or solve complex problems.  The perception is that it’s too hard, and too time consuming for very little personal gain.

In truth, many executive goal setting sessions give little more than lip-service to delivering great customer experiences.   This is reflected in the reports that measure CX related progress each year. We talk a good game, but the proof is in the results.  In many organizations today, from a CX perspective, there’s just not much to sink your teeth into.  While there are typically more customer-focused initiatives than the past, there’s very often no clear framework that empowers and incentivizes executives to work cross-functionally to help orchestrate a really awesome, comprehensively great customer experiences.  So, the organization is incentivized to stay in the comfort zone, and keep to the silos.  This has a myriad of impacts, including the following:

  • People view customer experience as little more than a buzzword
  • Staff place emphasis on task completion, rather than serving people
  • Teams are myopic in their vision and activity because there’s little incentive to do otherwise
  • Organizations have poor linkages between silos responsible for managing customers at various stages of their journey / experience
  • People do not understand or embrace their true role, responsibility and ownership of the customer journey
  • Staff doesn’t understand to enable truly customer-centric, proactive experience planning & collaboration
  • CX improvement initiatives happen within silos, and may fail as a result

Ultimately, this makes it easy for companies to routinely “drop the customer ball” at various stages of CX, alienating prospects and customers and losing revenue — despite their investments in CRM, MRM, marketing optimization, business process improvement,  etc.   This also sets up a lousy culture for innovation and service, because when people are forced to work from the “neck down” (that is, heads down and task focused),  it’s nearly impossible to work from the “neck up” (strategically, cross-functionally).  This not only frustrates forward progress, it can drive away truly innovative people away from your organization.

What can be done?  Well, there’s certainly not a simple answer.  This is why clients knock on our door.  However, here are a few things we’ve found that work quite well:

  • Crafting executive mandates to emphasize a focus on ownership of customer journey, collaborative problem solving and cross-functional responsibility helps companies shift focus positively on teaming for success.
  • Developing a clear, persona-driven understanding of the customers, you serve helps companies better aligning the organization around the creation of positive experiences for those people.
  • Aligning the KPI’s, metrics, and revenue generation to customer experiences helps companies slay the silos and develop a culture that is more truly and holistically focused on the people they serve.
  • Conducting real customer research, spending time with customers and developing an honest view of what real people experience with your company, breeds honesty within a company – especially when it aligns to captured data.
  • Making experiences and problems tangible, makes them more unilaterally understood.  This also makes it easier to identify necessary improvements and rally teams for problem solving.
  • Developing shared, customer-centric performance metrics and establishing cross-functional collaborative goals and expectations is an effective way to develop commonalities between teams that inspire teamwork.
  • Shifting the emphasis from finger-pointing between “competing” teams on to creating a desired outcome helps direct energy at solving customer problems — ideally within limited time frames for fast results!

In our experience, when companies get these things right, the numbers and success follow.  It doesn’t take perfection.  It takes iterative improvement, dedication, honesty, integrity and embracing what’s most important:  serving people well.

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