Q&A, Strategic HR

Q&A: Decommissioning Organizational Silos

As an HR manager, you likely have to navigate the labyrinth of different standards and procedures being operated by your organization’s various silos. While silos will always be part of an organization, unnecessary silos really hinder everyone, especially the one department that is supposed to keep meticulous records: HR. I recently had a chance to talk with Rafael Solis, COO of Braidio, about the logic behind silos, as well as how HR managers can approach them and, where possible, eliminate them.

Source: Ken Wolter / shutterstock

HR Daily Advisor: Why are organizational silos such a problem?

Solis: Organizational silos can be the result of a number of factors, but most often, they are the result of legacy processes or systems. These can be department-driven, the result of the tools used by the organization, or sometimes even the result of the fear of change.

Silos create problems when they restrict an organization from responding to change and when they introduce unnecessary friction when employees execute their daily workflows. In turn, this slows down productivity and results in wasted spend.

HR Daily Advisor: Why do organizations tend to gravitate toward silos?

Solis: Many of the information and data silos that haunt organizations are often the result of once highly specialized needs, which may make sense in retrospect. Other times, silos are perpetuated vendors, third-party platforms, and other services that are interoperable. Each of these comes with its own set of standards and reasons to protect its domain and perceived value add.

HR Daily Advisor: Can organizations really function in any other way? How?

Solis: Can organizations reach enlightenment? Probably not—to some extent, silos will likely exist from one organization to the next. But the organizations that are able to effectively eliminate any unnecessary silos, or introduce means to cut through them and create a more cohesive view, will be much better off.

HR Daily Advisor: One-third of employees are not productive for 10 of their work hours or more per week. Do you think moving away from silos can help bring that number down?

Solis: The very nature of silos introduces lots of friction within organizations. Most work is not linear; it is lateral and cross-departmental. The fewer silos there are, the more efficient employees will be, and by default, the organization will run smoother as a whole. Even where work is inherently linear, empowering those workers with unified access to all the resources, information, tools, and automation to execute their job most efficiently will enhance productivity.

HR Daily Advisor: Knowledge workers spend less than 40% of their average workweek on tasks that are not specific to their jobs. Why is this the norm? How can organizations change, and why should they?

Solis: There’s a plethora of responses to this depending on jobs, roles, organizations, and verticals. Some of this is a function of learning before executing. In some organizations, it may be that the silos and bureaucracy are so great that they impede productivity and the execution of a particular role. On a meta level, much has been said about the concept of being “busy vs. productive.” Living in the Bay Area, when you ask just about anyone “Hey, how are you doing?” the response you will likely get 9 out of 10 times is “busy but good.” It’s conceivable that we are spending 40% of our time being “busy” but not necessarily “productive.”

Any organization that cares about success has a responsibility to explore all opportunities to enhance productivity, which may mean reducing friction and easing the access to information, resources, and tools to better execute work—often translating, in most organizations, to removing silos. An incremental shift in productivity (even as low as 3%–5% in either direction +/-) represents tens of thousands, if not tens of millions, in costs or revenues, depending on the size of the organization.