Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

A few years back I was talking to a friend whose company had just gone through its latest restructure – and was suffering the after-effects.  Her organization had managed to assemble a number of smaller firms (the argument could be made that the net result was a larger holding company) with radically disparate ways of conducting business across the divisions that now made up the whole.

“The pitch to employees was this would make us the 800 lb. gorilla in our space – with economies of scale and a market presence that would make us unbeatable,” my friend said. “That was the vision anyway.”

“And how did that work out?” I asked.

She smiled. “We are now officially the most SILOED company in the world … with processes and systems that don’t resemble one another from division to division …. and confusion in the market place is worse than ever. We can’t get out of our own way. It’s a joke.”

“So the 800 lb. gorilla never showed up?” I asked.

“The 800 lb. gorilla is 8 100 lb. chimpanzees – and the noise is deafening,”she confessed. “It is a jungle.”

I have reflected on that comment quite a bit over the years … and shamelessly plagiarized the “8 100 lb. chimpanzees” analogy more than I can count.

PWC’s Global Survey suggests the metaphor can be applied to a LOT of companies – and the sounds of the jungle are effectively muting the voice and the vision of what “could be” for many.

In my consulting and training role today I’ve heard mention of silos often – it may be THE most common complaint of senior executives – especially at the Chief Executive level.

“We have widely different cultures, objectives, and ways of doing business…it’s killing us.”

That comment applies to a lot of firms, not just those who’ve recently gone through a merger – it includes long-standing organizations that have grown and, in many cases – gotten out in front of their skis as regards alignment of the various divisions that comprise the larger whole.

The Silo Mentality is real – and it may be the greatest internal obstacle to future growth for a majority of U.S. companies.


Primarily because a great many organizations are ideally structured, staffed, and incentivized to create the environment they’re currently creating– making it easy for individual divisions to work in a vacuum, employees to operate with widely disparate objectives, and communication to roll to a standstill.  Add to that internal systems that never intersect, key customer information that is never shared, and it’s not surprising that every day becomes a “mission of discovery” for many companies.

As my friend suggested, “We can’t get out of our own way.”

No organizational insights – no organizational agility – no progress.


Chimpanzees masquerading as the gorilla.

Your organization may have its share as well.

The companies that actually optimize the scope of their resources – that ensure the whole exceeds the sum of its parts– are relatively few.

So, how do the few manage to tear down the silos?

One of the immediate answers begins by going back to that earlier statement.

Most companies are IDEALLY structured, staffed, and incentivized to create the environment they’re currently creating.  

Silos aren’t spontaneously produced by nature – nor are they eliminated by just wishful thinking.

When we work with companies on our 800 Project (our definition for silo disintegration initiatives) we look at key steps that distinguish Real Gorillas– and we borrow from the insights gleaned. They include:

  1. The Real Gorillas recognize the overarching power of Purpose– of establishing a consistent and unified vision that sweeps all divisions, all departments, and all employees. While Chimps romp merrily along – happy to focus on their own tree, Gorillas demand its employees embrace the jungle. This means clarity as regards organizational goals and objectives and how what each employee does daily either supports that larger Purpose – or compromises it.
  2. The Real Gorillas carry Purpose one step further – they outline WHY realizing that Purpose is to the advantage of every company employee. Some do that by building incentives that encourage – others by staking a vision statement in the daily job responsibilities. But without the WHY behind it – Purpose can, and often does – slip into the background.
  3. Real Gorillas look closely at Alignment and Integration of Effort – not effort for effort’s sake. The synergy of any company is predicated on carefully eliminating duplicative assignments – and ensuring interdependency, not “parallel play.” Like a group of 2 year olds in the sandbox – a great many firms helplessly watch employees fill their respective pails – oblivious of those around them while they do so. In some cases correcting this demands:
    1. Carefully examining structure – and moving quickly to shift that to match the larger company strategy
    2. Blowing up systems that no longer marry the organizational purpose with day-to-day execution
  4. Real Gorillas assemble common data banks or repositories of information, particularly as regards customer interface and key work processes. (Example – Customer Relations Management (CRM)) The rationale – we don’t have to recreate the wheel every day. We can and should build on our own collective knowledge – in effect, leveraging our size.
  5. Real Gorillas regularly pressure test the size and strength of the full organization – not just the separate divisions. The restructures and acquisitions that fuel company disruption never see full return unless senior leaders constantly monitor the whole.  Fundamental questions abound in these learning organizations:
    1. Where are we at as regards the company in full?
    2. How well do we work together as a company?
    3. What’s the level of coordination as regards:
      1. Communication
      2. Key initiatives
      3. Shared projects
      4. Core accounts
      5. Mission critical work processes
    4. Where do we want to be as regards a fully integrated company?”
    5. How will we get there?
    6. What results should we expect and when?
  6. Real Gorillas embrace the power of After Action Reviews– assessing progress made and immediately projecting the learning’s into their Action Plans.
  7. Real Gorillas enjoy Shared Ownership in the organizational goals and objectives – and never allow rogue or independent divisions to win while the company at large loses. They do this by:
    1. Building accountability at the senior leadership level
    2. Building business objectives at every level that are “silo breakers”
    3. Incentivizing Best in Class employees who are leading the way in silo destruction
  8. Real Gorillas decide that chimpanzees are doomed for extinction – and make the larger vision a part of how business should be conducted a part of the organizational fabric.

One final qualifier – far too many leaders wait for their company to recognize the silos that exist and commence some grand plan to eliminate them.  Like world hunger and the national deficit, that’s a concession that the problem is too large to contemplate locally.

Big mistake. The reality – even first line leaders and employees can affect massive changes in silo mentality by executing (even in part) each of the 8 steps above.

Like any journey – it’s the first steps, however small, that are the most difficult.

Which takes us back to the beginning of this blog – and a question for each of us to contemplate.

What’s the Silo Factor with my company?

How many chimps are compromising OUR effectiveness?


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