If you have ever seen a picture of a silo, you’ll notice it’s typically a tall cylindrical building with no windows and standing alone in a field. There are very few points of entry. Designed to hold and protect whatever is store inside, they are essential to many farming operations.
Through organizational inefficiencies, power struggles, and/or fear, departments can often store (sometimes perhaps even hoard) information that can be inaccessible to the rest of the company. This type of mindset is commonly referred to as a “silo mentality”. Often unintentional, silos can creep up on an organization, making it
The business dictionary defines a silo mentality as a mindset present in some companies when individual departments do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of thinking will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of productive company culture. 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.
Types of Silos
There are generally three types of silos we can experience.
- Organizational silos describe a division into departments (sometimes even into sub-departments) or companies (like the distribution of multiple locations in one company). These divisions tend to operate autonomously and they may even have their own specific and discrete goals.
- Informational silos are often the result of a division of labor. Information remains “trapped” within the department and interdepartmental communication quickly becomes nonexistent.
- Ingrained silos (or silos of the mind) may be the most damaging because they are created through assumptions and ingrained thought patterns. Often going unexamined, they can influence everyday actions, leading to information hoarding and departmental biases. It is difficult to realize this narrow-minded way of thinking when you are mired in it.
Why Silos Exist
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 continue to exist?
Often, it can be a simple byproduct of office space. Although our present-day have-laptop-will-work-anywhere mindset has freed us from offices, these spaces were traditionally designed to facilitate rows of workers and typists, tightly packed to maximize the use of space. Over time, these spaces evolved to be centered around an individual or a specific effort. Think corner offices and different departments located on different floors.
Fun fact: The Old Admiralty Office is mostly recognized as the first office building. Constructed in London in 1726, it served to handle the masses of the paperwork generated by the Royal Navy and included meeting spaces. It is still used today.
Although silos can occur as a result of physical spaces, a silo mindset is more often rooted in the leadership. Turf wars, cross-functional conflict, lack of visibility, or access tools can inadvertently drive leaders to take the if-you-want-something-done-do-it-yourself route. Occasionally it is 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.
The current mandates to work from home have splintered workgroups even further, but there are still ways to bring everyone together. As environmental forces exert pressure on our marketing efforts, it is necessary to find ways to make the result of our efforts more significant than the sum of the parts.
Hub and Spoke
Many years ago, I was introduced to a PR pro and author who would later become a mentor, Gini Dietrich. In her book Marketing in the Round, she challenges marketers to imagine their organizational structure as a wheel instead of a typical hierarchy. Consider marketing as the hub, with the spokes making up of all the elements we use to talk to customers. In most casino marketing departments (particularly in the regional markets), thinking of this hub and spoke model is easy. Typically, our teams are small, and we’re forced to work together, like it or not.
But take a step back and look at your entire organization. Does it consist of a variety of hubs all working independently? Is the casino department a hub or one of your marketing spokes? What about food and beverage or IT? All of these and more impact the guest experience and should be spokes in the marketing hub.
Why You Must Eliminate Your Silos
Silos prevent us from acting quickly and taking full advantage of opportunities. Studies have shown up to 70% of executives view silo mentality as the biggest obstacle to customer service and meeting company goals.
Much in the way farm silos prevent grains from mixing, work silos prevent ideas and thoughts from mixing. A silo mentality (planned or inadvertent) can restrict a level of information flow that is required for everyone to excel at their jobs.
Consider the modern healthcare system. Consisting of private insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, hospitals, nursing homes, regulators, and more all work independently to manage the nation’s healthcare. It is a veritable farm of often impenetrable silos.
Here is an example we can also experience all too often. The slot department has just returned from G2E and contracted for a few new key 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 see how customers will be drawn like a magnet. However, the reality is 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.
Conversely, there was a team from another property attending the same conference. They too bought into this new product. When they returned from the conference, they let the marketing team know how excited they were. They gave them 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.
You can substitute any industry or any department. The comparison is the same.
Which one sounds more like your property or company? Are there signs of silo mentality that you’ve missed.
Although the current shut-down and reopening cycle that most of us have experienced forced us to break through some previously existing silos, we know habits die hard. Your local silos can build back up if you don’t keep an eye on the signals.
Signs of Silo Mentality
- Departments or groups are surprised by projects and initiatives undertaken by others.
- Departments or groups are unprepared for hand-offs. 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.
- Meeting are run as top-down directives rather than as a an exchange of thoughts and information
- At companies with multiple branches or location, the culture varies from location to location.
- There is an excessive use of the terms, “us,” “them.” and my (un)favorite “it’s not my job.”
- You (or others) are always chasing information.
How to Eliminate Silos
Unified focus, visibility, collaboration, and communication are key to breaking through silos.
Keep your eye on the big picture by establishing a common vision and a widespread understanding of how each department and individual contributes to the company goals. The silo mentality can start small. 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 goals of the silo rather than overall company vision.
There must be a shift to a central vision. It is critical that every member of the leadership team agrees to a common 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. Quick! 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 important. 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 org provides visibility into what work is actually being accomplished and fosters a sense of true collaboration,” says Wrike CMO Frazier Miller.
Knowledge is power. So, it’s easy to understand why some leaders keep the 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 common vision should be done frequently so that it becomes a healthy 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.
Encourage feedback. Many organizations have suggestion boxes. Less than that take the input seriously, but the sharing of thoughts and ideas is a valuable source of information beyond complaints.
Shared experiences. Last year, I was in attendance at the Cutting Edge Table Games Conference. I was sharing a story from the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference. I was pleasantly surprised when the person I was chatting with 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,” or how often we opt out of sessions that might be designed for “someone else’s department.”
Additionally, we’ve developed a habit of executive meetings and department meetings. Heck, we even named “our” conference room once. Why not substitute a town hall every once in a while? Or take a small step and just invite someone from another department to participate in your next meeting.
Take a lunch break. My former coworker used to take a day out of the month to have lunch with someone outside of our department. He thought (and I agree) that it is a great way to get to know those outside our circle and to understand how everything fits in the greater picture.
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.
However, once brought down, it will not be as easy as singing Kumbaya around a campfire together. Trust has a way of taking much longer to build than it does to tear it apart. Personal squabbles and resentment need time and truth to show everyone they are on the same path and focus on the big picture together.
A version of this previously appeared in Casino Journal.
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