A “silo” is typically a tall cylindrical building that stands alone in a field. Essential to many farm operations, the silo features no windows, few points of entry and is primarily designed to house and protect whatever product the farmer decided to store in it.
At face value, a silo is a pretty benign building and concept; until it is combined with the word “mentality” and used as a metaphor to describe certain business infrastructures. A standard business dictionary will define “silo mentality” as a mindset present in some companies when individual departments do not wish to share information with others in the same company. Indeed, through organizational inefficiencies, power struggles, security fears and a host of other factors, departments within a company often store/hoard information, restricting access to it from other operational facets of the enterprise. I am sure no reader of this publication sets out to establish or maintain such a state for their organization, but it can slowly happen over time, often as a result of moving quickly to meet or crush market challenges.
Suffice to say a silo mentality is not a particularly worthwhile or sustainable approach to business, since this type of thinking will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, kill morale, and likely contribute to the demise of productive company culture. Fortunately, there are some steps businesses can take to deconstruct corporate silos. Before we delve into these, it will help to better understand how silos come about, why they need to be eliminated and whether or not they exist within your company’s operational structure.
DEFINING & IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM
Although the term “silo” has been discussed in a variety of business environments for many years, it is still somehow that stumbling block for many companies today. But why—if it’s such a bad thing—does this even exist?
A silo mindset is often rooted in leadership. Turf wars, cross-functional conflict, lack of visibility or tools can inadvertently drive leaders to take the “if-you-want-something-done-do-it-yourself” route. Occasionally it’s just a matter of not playing nicely in the sandbox. The ugly truth is that some managers inspire these turf wars as a way to solidify a base of power for themselves. Whatever the reason or origin, any of these can lead to long-term organizational issues and dissatisfaction among line employees. Worse yet, they can lead to turf wars and stall marketing momentum.
Silos also prevent us from acting quickly and taking full advantage of opportunities. Studies have shown that up to 70 percent of executives view silo mentality as the biggest obstacle to customer service and meeting company goals.
Here is an example we have all experienced at some point in our casino careers: The slot department has just returned from G2E and contracted for a few new vital products they think will make a positive impact on the floor. With a limited budget, they could only pick a handful, but they are confident they made purchase decisions that will create the revenue needed. The first of the machines arrive. Everyone in the slot department is “oohing” and “aahing”—they are so excited to flip the switch and watch how customers will be drawn to the game like metal to a magnet. However, the reality is that if it weren’t for the signage on the machine, no one would really know about it. In the next executive team meeting, someone mentions, “we should do something to announce the arrival.” Although this missed opportunity is passed off as a communication issue, it is actually a case of silo mentality.
Conversely, there was a team from another property attending the same conference. Their slot team also bought this new product. When they returned from the conference, they let the marketing department know how excited they were. They gave marketing a ton of information, and the marketing team got started planning weeks’ worth of activities to squeeze every bit of new product marketing juice they could. They rotated it into the core mailer. They created a VIP machine arrival event for their most valuable customers to get the first spin. They wrapped the monthly promotion in the same theme, and finally, they documented the whole thing on the property’s Instastory.
Which one sounds more like your property? Are there signs of silo mentality that you’ve missed? The symptoms of silo mentality can often go uncategorized because they can feel like the same story playing in a loop. Here’s some silo symptoms to watch for:
- Departments or groups are surprised by projects and initiatives undertaken by others.
- Departments or groups are unprepared for handoffs. I’ve seen this a lot—marketing isn’t ready to launch a new product or marketing develops an online promotion and IT isn’t prepared for the increased volume to servers.
- Few, if any, communication is filtering up from levels below management even though top-down communications are flowing freely.
BLOWING UP THE SILOS
Unified focus, visibility, collaboration, and communication are crucial to breaking through silos. Here are some advice and steps to take:
- Keep your eye on the big picture. Establish a shared vision and a widespread understanding of how each department and individual contributes to the company goals. The silo mentality can start small. For example, individual leaders set goals to benefit their department. Rewards are distributed based on those department goals. As a result, the department becomes focused on achieving the purposes of the silo rather than the overall company vision.
- There must be a shift to a central vision. Every member of the leadership team must agree to a shared and unified vision for the property—long-term goals, department objectives and key initiatives—before it is communicated down to managers, supervisors and line employees. Such a unified vision and language should build trust; but more importantly, it should break managers out of the “my department” habit and into an “our team” mentality.
- Nested goals and tasks. Grab the nearest coordinator in your department and ask them two questions: What are they working on right now? How does it support the vision for the property? My guess is that they know what they are doing is important (otherwise they wouldn’t be spending time on it), but they have no idea why it’s essential. The notion of nested tasks is that each one is in support of the one above it, and each of those supporting those above them until the very top overarching property goal.
- “Making these nested goals known to everyone in the organization provides visibility into what work is actually being accomplished and fosters a sense of true collaboration,” according to Frazier Miller, chief marketing officer for Wrike.
- Knowledge is power. It’s easy to understand why some leaders keep information to themselves; however, knowledge and collaboration are integral to cross-functional teamwork. Reduce unnecessarily long meetings in favor of small, brief cross-functional gatherings (and spaces for such). Encourage the sharing of information and tools. Create a safe environment where team members feel comfortable reaching out to anyone for assistance or information.
Transparent communication of the shared vision should be frequent so that it becomes a normal part of the organization’s culture and everyone feels they have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Keeping company goals and metrics visible to everyone can be as simple as a dashboard displaying at-a-glance charts, infographics or other visuals.
Identify collaboration tools that are accessible by all employees. When collaboration tools are available, people will share information more freely.
- Shared experiences. I was recently in attendance at the Cutting Edge Table Games Conference and was sharing a story from the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference. I was pleasantly surprised when the person I was chatting with (not a marketer) mentioned he had been there. It made me realize how seldom we take the time to attend conferences, webinars and meetings that are for “another department.”
Additionally, we’ve developed a habit of private executive meetings and department meetings. Why not substitute a town hall every once in a while? Or take a small step and invite someone from another department to participate in your next meeting.
The number of customer touchpoints continues to increase daily, and technology continues to expand customer interactions and expectations. Market changes, tight turnaround times, and the need to maintain a quality standard will continue to chip at silos until they come crashing down. Like most old structures, the best way to bring them down is by working together with a single plan.