Silos & Empires

Where I come from (small town Oklahoma), silos are part of life for dairy farmers.  A silo is a good thing…it stores grains (we called it sileage) to feed cattle and can be found on most farms across the state.

Imagine my surprise when I first started working in large organizations.  I started hearing about ‘silos’ and found that they weren’t quite as good as the silos I remember back home.

Silos in the corporate world are created for one thing…and one thing only: control.  If you want to control something within an organization, you build your little empire by building a silo around your piece of the business.  You don’t interact or communicate with other groups unless absolutely necessary, you make ‘getting things done’ as difficult as possible and you protect your ‘turf’ at all costs.

Today’s Dilbert Comic Strip (June 28 2008) had a nice commentary on the subject….and is somewhat true for some organizations.

Its funny because its true.

How does one build a silo/empire?  Easy.  Create a process and stick to it. When’s the last time you requested something be done and heard ‘well…that’s not our process…you’ll need to file a form to request that’.  Does that group that you were dealing with have a reputation for getting the job done?  More likely, that group is one that everyone hates dealing with precisly because they can’t get anything done quickly because of their ‘processes’.

I hate to say it, but ‘that’ group is usually the information technology group of an organization.  IT groups have a great deal of processes and compliance demands thrust upon them (PCI, SAS70, SOX, etc) which makes life difficult for all parties involved.  I think a lot of IT groups try to hide behind these processes rather than find ways to deal with them and get things done quickly.  Its easier to hide behind a process and let your self become process bound than finding innovative ways to work these new compliance issues and processes in to the organization so that they don’t slow everything down.

In a real-world silo, grain goes in for storage, sometimes waiting for weeks before being used. Mechanical devices pull the grain out of the silo and distribute it to the waiting cattle who then consume it.  Should we (the folks that need to get things done) stand around and wait for the farmer to turn on the feeder device or should we find a way to jump the fence and hit that ‘on’ button ourselves?  Why not start trying to remove some of the bricks at the base of the silo and see if we can’t open up some more holes…perhaps we can start to get things done quicker.

Rather than acting like Dilbert (or more accurately, his Pointy Haired Boss), lets start focusing on getting our jobs done.

6 responses to “Silos & Empires”

  1. […] Original post by Aligning Technology, Strategy, People & Projects […]

  2. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Gary – That’s worth much more than 2 cents!

    Your comment of:
    “Perhaps the real issue is that IT needs to do a better job of managing perceptions within the organization and marketing the real-world value that it’s processes and procedures provide to the organization as a whole”

    Is exactly what IT needs to do…and is what I’m trying to help IT groups do. How do we manage the perception that people have of the IT group? How do we communicate the value of the IT group?


  3. Gary Drumm Avatar

    When I took on my current position, I was actually hired to be the IT Support Manager. The company’s IT group had a terrible perception. Things took way too long to get done. The helpdesk staff was unfriendly and provided mediocre support, and we had consultants performing our day-to-day network management and operations.

    On my third day, I believe it was, I was introduced to the entire sales and marketing staff. These are the people who bring in the money, and yet they were basically abused by IT in general. I looked them in the eyes and told them “You are my customers, you guys are the ones who bring in the money that makes this whole things run, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you guys get whatever you need to do your jobs more effectively and efficiently than you ever thought possible.”

    Many of them didn’t believe me, why should they? They’ve been abused, talked down to, stripped of access rights, and forced to jump through insane hurdles just to perform some of their basic job functions. They had an extremely poor perception of IT. So now here’s this fat, balding young geek telling us he’s gonna change all that.

    What I did was simple. I told people what I was going to do for them and I then I went out and executed. I broke down unnecessary barriers. I stopped the “IT turf” idea. Sure there are areas that only a select few have access to, i.e. the NOC/Data Center, but but I took down other barriers, such as making it easier to gain VPN access, formalizing a supplies ordering process, elemenating overly restrictive software that prevented mobile users from even being able to connect to a printer in their hotel.

    In short, I made their jobs easier. I implemented a web/email based helpdesk management system, instead of the previous system written in MS Access. I, and my lead engineer at the time, brought Exchange in-house, making the management much easier and enabling users to access their email, securely, over a web browser. I/we did a myriad of things to deliver on the promise.

    The result? We get better results, more consistently, and our customers are happier. I have 5 “Thank you” cards posted on my overhead. While that may be a small number, it indicates, to me at least, that we’ve done a good job.

    I think we change the perceptions by doing 6 things:
    – Your “users’ are you customers. Treat them as such
    – Deliver on your promises
    – Break down unnecessary barriers to IT
    – Do not be condescending to your customers. Nothing ticks them off faster.
    – Recognize that every interaction is an opportunity to add value and that no intereaction is a zero sum transaction (you either add value, or you subtract it).
    – Communication is critical. Tell people what you’re going to be performing some network maintenance, then broadcast how appreciative you are of your team for putting in the long hours necessary to complete “X” project.

    In short, think of the best customer experiences you’ve had and make an effort to mimic and apply the positive things about that experience that made you feel that way. Treat your customers like they are the reason you get up in the morning, because if they’re not, you won’t be very good at what you do.

  4. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Great thoughts Gary.

    Your 6 ideas for changing the perception of IT are classic. Thanks so much.

    I especially like the 3rd one: Break down unnecessary barriers to IT

    This seems to be the major issue with most IT groups…the processes that are put in place aren’t fully explained to the customers. The customers then see those processes are barriers to getting things done.

    Thanks again…great insight!

  5. bobitoi Avatar

    When people get stressed they often fall back on the tried and true, those things that have worked in the past, rather than try to work out a new way of addressing issues. There is a lot of risk when it comes to social networking, mostly in that if your organization is already dysfunctional, or there are silos within the process of information sharing, social networking can highlight or amplify the issues surrounding those silos rather than breaking down barriers.

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