Silos – not the tall towers used for grain storage, but in the context of today’s corporate parlance, the pesky divisions and hierarchies that are rampant across many organisations and largely resistant to dismantling - take many forms. And once established, they prove to be tenacious and embedded, keeping people in their boxes, marginalised and isolated, cementing a ‘them and us’ culture which remains the perennial gripe of corporate life.
Of course, the number crunchers have woken up to the fact that a siloed workforce has deeper repercussions; such schisms keep particular skills and knowledge locked in pockets of the business, compromising the sharing of intelligence and best practice. Processes may be often repeated or outsourced at greater expense, an inefficiency which ultimately undermines performance and profits, and goes some way to explaining why a seamless, integrated team has become the Holy Grail of today’s workplace.
Indeed, from the marketing collateral gathering dust in the reception foyer, to induction sessions and the annual conference, no opportunity is wasted to propone the importance of a one vision, one culture utopia, where everyone works as one; an entirely cohesive culture cemented by much-lauded corporate values.
That’s the theory, but ham-fistedly applied in practice, it’s an approach that often falls short. Brand values can carry weight up to a point, serving as a barometer of who or what represents the ‘right’ cultural fit, informing recruitment, promotion or demotion and being used to reach the front line, whose buy-in remains critical to stay competitive.
In reality though, it’s a rhetoric that rarely has much traction beyond head office. Hours spent crafting a snappy alliterative sound bite, to this end, is inevitably time wasted, barely registering on the radar of those at the sharp end. More than anything, it’s an endeavour that highlights both the depth of divisions that exist and the mistaken focus that marketing can gloss over the cracks.
With something more meaningful needed, step forward data analytics. Teetering on the brink of perhaps its most game changing incarnation of all, it is primed and poised to make significant inroads into corporate culture, ones that could banish silos for good.
By enabling deeper analysis to derive a far greater value from a business’ data, this fusion of forensic technology and human insight has fuelled the data explosion and put it at the heart of decision-making. And buoyed by the proliferation of mobile technology and ubiquity of cloud, things are getting even more interesting as industry leaders extend the reach of this traditionally complex area in the workplace, beyond the usual domain of data scientists and specialists.
Visualisation is at the heart of this accessible makeover, morphing statistics into clear graphics that provide an instant snapshot of the story usually buried in the data, so that non experts can spot anomalies in performance and gain insight in real time. The upshot is an empowerment and independence which will undoubtedly challenge traditional hierarchies and ways of working, in turn leading to the gradual erosion of the IT bottle necks and the dependency culture that relies on a select few to extrapolate intelligence.
The efficiency benefits are clear but the repercussions go deeper. Democratising data creates a more level playing field. Knowledge is power and only by extending this privilege beyond the usual confines will there be the transparency and equality needed to meaningfully address the limitations of long entrenched silos.
Greater freedom around the access and sharing of information can only herald a shift from passivity to proactivity and shape a culture where people generate findings and results themselves rather than awaiting instruction, while in turn changing the conversation more broadly around what people are privy to and expect to be included in.
It won’t happen overnight, but the momentum is already building, and where it really matters - on the front line - evident among the growing number of retail teams that can access data themselves to inform customer service rather than rely on missives from head office.
Ironically, the technology that empowers people to think as individuals is far more likely to smooth divisions and in turn, foster a more fluid, integrated environment. That old adage deserves a rethink, for in the modern workplace, it will be all about what you know. Who you know, may become a lot less critical.