Silos Threaten Your Leadership

By Gary Clayton

Silos within your organization can destroy your leadership. Even if the silo doesn’t seem to affect you, the fact that others who report to you are affected by the silo means it is undermining trust in your leadership. The silo should be dealt with promptly.

We learned in The Importance of Trust to Your Leadership that trust takes time to build and can be easily damaged. When you allow a silo to form under your leadership, you will typically find that all of your followers divert their attention toward the silo, lose some trust in you and - sometimes - your boss also loses some trust in you. Recognizing and eliminating silos are key leadership skills. Let’s review an early real-life example from someone whose later efforts won rave reviews from Hammer and Champy, authors of Re-engineering the Corporation.

You can win the battle - and lose the war – by allowing a silo

By allowing a silo in your organization, you allow the focus to move away from your goals

By allowing a silo in your organization, you allow the focus to move away from your goals and reduce your followers' trust

In the mid-1980’s I consulted with an EVP to transform his corporation’s internal operations and customer service. After a quick series of interviews throughout the various departments, we informed the EVP that the ancient information systems were a major problem that most be addressed. The VP of Information Systems, however, loved the way things were, refused to embrace the planned changes and told his employees to roadblock our efforts. Thus a silo was created that the EVP refused to end.

At the end of our six month project, we piloted a major customer service transformation for customers in three US states with resounding success. With six more months, the changes were rolled out to most of the other 47 states, accomplished in spite of the resistance of the IS department.

This project should have been an outstanding success for the EVP. However, the silo that he allowed to fester eventually caused other VPs to lose trust in his leadership. They criticized him behind his back, damaging his chance to become the next CEO.

Trust in your leadership is impaired

In this real life example, all three dimensions of trust were impaired:

  • Identification-based trust – the VP of IS did not identify with the EVP. He felt threatened by the EVP’s direction and goals. Those goals would have taken his department into technologies with which he was uncomfortable. The EVP’s departments also no longer identified with the IS department.
  • Knowledge-based trust – the EVP’s employees outside the silo saw he had two standards: one for them and another for the silo. They resented that the EVP could not be trusted to maintain an environment in which all departments did what was needed for the entire company to be successful.
  • Calculus- or Deterrence-based trust – The other departments saw that the EVP would not deter the IS department from acting against the needs of the rest of the corporation. They could not trust him to punish break-away departments that hurt their efforts.

In fact, the EVP left within two years of the project completion. Later, he became president of another large company, where he launched a similar corporate transformation effort that became a model for others.

Think about your own organization. Are there any silos. groups that view their existence and goals as more important than working for the health of your whole organization? How do they pose a risk to your goals? What leadership skills do you have that can help you bring them back in line with the rest of your organization?

Gary Clayton helps CEOs, executives and other leaders work through current challenges and find paths to greater success in business and life.

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