Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Working more effectively in a table of organization when it does not allow for that

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 18, 2010

I have posted many times in this blog about taking an entrepreneurial approach when working in an organization and of taking a consultant’s approach to working with clients, in-house or external. I have written about this as these approaches relate to job search and career development best practices and in my ongoing series on Business Strategy and Operations and in Startups and Early Stage Businesses.

I have also written repeatedly about organizational structure and how it can promote or impede effective communication, collaboration and innovation, and in much the same series as those I write about the consulting and entrepreneurial approaches in.

A particular problem I have raised and at least briefly discussed is that of the heavily silo-structured organization with its “us versus them” mentality – “this is our silo and any resources we have, business intelligence included is ours and not to be allowed out to the business as a whole.”

• Where does this allow for or support entrepreneurial or consultant approaches?
• If you find yourself taking a position in such an organization what can you do to break out of the silo driven “us versus them”, and “us versus the in-house them” mentality?
• Who do you need to get a buy in from on this and how best should you achieve that?
• Should you even try, and if so when?

There is no simple, single answer to any of these questions, as important as they can be and both for an individual career and for the organization as a whole. And depending on your position with the organization you may simply not have any real options at all, and be blocked in taking these approaches except perhaps in your own immediate team. This gets a lot more interesting when you have a management position in that organization, and it can become both immediately pressing and vitally important if you are tasked with a change management responsibility there.

• Businesses that cultivate and encourage open communication and the sharing of business information and other resources are much less likely to get blindsided by the types of long term, chronic problems that lead to a need for change management. With more eyes on what is and is not going on, and with more of them looking beyond the immediate here and now of their own direct day to day tasks, systemic problems do get spotted and talked about, and both earlier and more widely.
• It is precisely in those organizations, sclerotic from their rock hard silo walls and other internal barriers, that most likely will find themselves drifting systematically off-course and in need of change management.
• And change management has to break through the walls and get people talking to be effective – calling for those entrepreneurial and consultant mindsets and approaches.

I come to what I admit is something of a trick question here in this posting.

• Who is in the best position to affect the types of communication and cross-barrier action that would be needed to effect viable long term change in a sclerotic organization tied down by silence and inertia, and by thick silo walls?

One quick and perhaps facile answer would be the CEO. Surely this person can set things right, by in effect ordering the opening of lines of communication to deal with specific inter-departmental tasks and goals. And if those tasks and goals are presented with real focus, so as to avoid confusion as to the who, how or why this should work.

That approach probably would work except for one little detail – the momentum of a corporate culture that denies the legitimacy and relevancy of any challenge to the fiefdoms and ownership positions that hide behind all those walls. Yes, a new CEO can move in and order people to change, and with specific, focused goals and processes laid out. A new and incoming CEO can fail too, by denying the reality of all of that momentum that this organization has accumulated, and through its periods of success as well as through its downward slide.

This is where the trick question part of my above question comes out. The problem with it is in specifying a “who” where that is taken to be singular. Change management cannot succeed by fait. It requires a systematic buy-in, and one that can radiate out through a process of doubt, trial, acceptance and support for people who eventually come to embrace it in action.

• You do not have to be the CEO to lead this, though it can help to be a C level officer, or at least a senior manager.
• But any initiatives have to be developed as a shared effort, and with buy-in and support from at least the key people needed for each and every perhaps tiny step. And the first steps will be very small.

This is a first posting in a short series on effecting long term change management solutions, and I will pick up from where this one leaves off in a few days to discuss operational processes, social networking and buy-in for change.

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