Great Business Ideas: Silo busting

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Silo busting

How do you get people to collaborate within an organization across business divisions? The answer is to focus on the thing that should unite you most—the need to serve customers—in five practical ways.

The idea

Many businesses have either failed or not realized their potential because they were divided by rivalry and did not adequately serve customers. This matters at any time, but is particularly problematic if the firm is launching a new product or looking to sell more to existing clients and contacts.

In 2001, GE Medical Systems (now GE Healthcare) started providing consultancy services (known as Performance Solutions) to complement its sales of imaging equipment. Initial sales for consultancy services were strong, but declined by 2005 because of a lack of coordination between divisions selling equipment and consultancy. Its response was to alter its approach, to be more customer-centered, and to change the sales organization.

In practice

  • Start by increasing coordination across boundaries. This can be done in three ways: sharing information, especially about customers; sharing people and skills; and, as far as possible, making collective decisions. The danger is that traditional silos will be replaced by customer-focused ones—yet even this is a step forward. The key is to overcome traditional divisions.
  • Implement new performance measures and metrics centered on customers. Metrics encourage customer-focused decisions. If these metrics are linked with rewards, they can be a powerful way to change behavior.
  • Develop cooperation by changing the structure and approach of specific teams. This can be challenging, and may include changing reporting arrangements and revising processes so that people closest to the customers are the ones making more of the key decisions.
  • Build cross-business skills and capabilities. Silo busting requires generalists, people capable of operating across divisions. These people should be developed and programs implemented to help them gain and develop their cross-business expertise.
  • Build relationships and connect with people. There is no substitute for the “soft” skills of rapport, understanding, and trust.
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Involvement, communication, and support are valuable ways to build relationships, and these will help ensure success.