Silo Busting: How to Execute on the Promise of Customer Focus


Curious, I checked the etymology of “silo” and learned that is from the Greek word siros, a “pit for holding grain”; that is, a structure for storing bulk materials. It is a highly efficient, cost-effective storage container of incalculable value. There are various claims on the appropriation of the term to describe a business situation in which one or more individuals as well as departments and even divisions in an organization isolate their resources from everyone else. It makes sense if we’re talking about the Manhattan Project or Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” but more often than not, the business silo symbolizes information hoarding.

My own experience suggests that some of the most impenetrable business silos are disguised as human beings.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Ranjay Gulati for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

He shares what he has learned from his research on major corporations’ efforts to understand and unite around customer needs.

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“I found that successful companies engaged in four sets of activities”:

o Coordination: Establish structural mechanisms and processes that allow employees combine resources.

o Cooperation: Encourage people at all levels and in all areas to focus on responding to customer needs.

o Capability Development: Ensure that there are enough highly-skilled people to deliver customer-focused solutions.

o Connection: Develop relation ships with external partners to increase the scope, impact, and value of solutions cost effectively

“The first three sets of activities mutually reinforce the effort to put customers at the organization’s fore; the fourth dramatically increases the power and reach of solutions my focusing attention beyond the firm’s boundaries. All of them help companies transcend internal solos in service of higher-value customer solutions.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

This article is among the ten provided in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Collaboration.

GulatiRanjay Gulati is the Jaime and Josefina Chua Tiampo Professor and the Unit Head of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. He is an expert on leadership, strategy, and organizational issues in firms. His recent work explores leadership and strategic challenges for building high growth organizations in turbulent markets. Some of his prior work has focused on the enablers and implications of within-firm and inter-firm collaboration. He has looked at both when and how firms should leverage greater connectivity within and across their boundaries to enhance performance.

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