When it comes to breaking down silos, you might be surprised about where to start.
It’s common knowledge: Innovation is initiated from the bottom up. Young bucks attempting to change arcane business processes are thwarted by stodgy upper management. Right? Actually, no.
Major change often comes from the C-suite, with resistance coming from middle management. But why?
When C-level managers want to initiate a major change, they hire consultants. The consultants drill into operations within each department or line of business. They are mining for process deficiencies that impact the rest of the organization. The trouble is, sometimes, middle managers are often totally unaware how their entrenched processes impact the rest of the organization.
I’m reminded of a time I was working on an accounts payable consulting project. A lower-level IT manager — who had some technical knowledge — was skeptical about the organizational change being implemented. He only wanted to know how this new technology would impact him and his department, rather than looking at how it would affect the company as a whole. The idea of cross collaboration between departments or business units just didn’t concern him.
Silo thinking is particularly endemic in the retail sector, where growth often comes through acquisition. Each newly acquired business wants to operate autonomously, despite the fact that greater efficiencies could be achieved through collaboration. This is exacerbated because organizations often stick with their own legacy software and equipment. When there are multiple legacy systems that all have the same job and often don’t play nice with one another, it results in inefficiencies that kill productivity.
What is clear to me time and time again is that anyone with true drive for change — whether sitting at headquarters or in remote offices — is interested in how change will make the entire organization better. But without transparency into other areas of the organization, many middle managers are unable to see how their business processes affect others. Without transparency, it’s impossible to see things holistically.
Taking a new approach
As part of Ricoh’s Business Process Agility (BPA) consulting group, it probably won’t surprise you that I approach problems like these from a BPA-first perspective. In today’s new world of work, it’s vital for companies to become proficient in embracing change, both internally and externally, with the aim of creating agile enterprises that can respond quickly to opportunities and challenges. And from what I see, many companies need help acquiring this agile mindset — and often don’t know where to start, what their priorities should be or what their needs are.
This is where I think a BPA approach really shines. Such an approach allows us to take a holistic view of the entire enterprise while still listening to the individual departments, which can ultimately break down these roadblocks to change and position the organization for the future.
We begin by determining business challenges and desired business outcomes, which can differ wildly by department. For example, IT executives generally see agility as being based primarily in technology, whereas business leaders can differ wildly by individual lines of business (LoBs) — often prioritizing issues important to that particular LoB. When working with LoB leaders and other stakeholders, we can prioritize goals and what constitutes success. This is where an outside perspective can be extremely helpful.
We then assess the different kinds of information that flow throughout the organization to identify bottlenecks and identify areas of improvement. This is accompanied by a workflow analysis to identify and prioritize each process in need of change. Here, we determine priority based on the financial impact of each process improvement. In this process, we create a roadmap that incorporates these goals, projects and challenges into a holistic, adaptive model.
The end result is a transformation plan that addresses the needs of middle management, while still achieving the organization’s overall goals.
It’s all about the results
But none of this matters unless it has a real business impact. I believe that metrics — particularly financial — are absolutely crucial for this approach to succeed. While it can be difficult to calculate the financial impact of such programs, the results can be felt when you can cut an entire accounts payable operation in half, save millions by sharing eCommerce resources across multiple retail operations, or combine 15 different legacy ERP systems into one. And it all starts with identifying these roadblocks to change.