The compartmentalized company. Irritant #4 of the employee experience.

While in their daily experience everyone is used to living in a world that is increasingly decompartmentalized and networked, it is often the opposite that happens when one walks through the door of their company.

And once again, beyond the cliché of the employee who cannot behave at work as he does “at home”, there are a lot of dysfunctions that affect the business.

The organization: boxes stacked in silos

The only walls that have fallen in the company to date are those of offices that have become open-spaces for a long time now. For the rest, the problem is deep.

Facing the complexity of the subjects to be dealt with, be it internal subjects or serving a client, hyperspecialisation is no longer the miracle solution, or at least no longer the only one. More than ever, it has become important to have experts collaborate: better three semi-experts who collaborate than 10 leading experts in their field who don’t talk to each other.

But as we have already seen, our organizations have become accustomed to responding to the complexity of the world with complication, and so they have skillfully made every effort to ensure that internal complication prevents collaboration.

Take a subject that is transversal by nature, such as digital transformation. In an ideal world it should bring together around the same table IT, marketing, HR, sales, communication and even others depending on the industry. What happens in real life? If two of them are present it’s already a huge feat. If you have more of them you will quickly realize that they haven’t spoken to each other for years or even that they will have internal meetings during the steering committee meetings that they don’t do outside as working together is not part of their routine.

No need to go that far. Just when it comes to unified commerce, which is a very important topic at the moment, it sometimes seems as if marketing is getting to know the IT department.

Needless to say, these bad habits spread throughout the organization chart and what’s true at the top is worth even more at the bottom.

Sometimes even within a department, people don’t talk to each other according to their speciality or the project to which they are assigned.

And since something that is unnatural in real life will never happen in a tool, I’ll let you guess the ROI of the installed tools.

But silos are not only horizontal, they are also vertical. And when you have walls on the sides and above it’s called a box and it’s tight.

As strange as it may seem at a time when we advocate responsiveness, flat structures and short communication channels, there are companies where one cannot directly address someone who is above one’s manager. Yes, that’s true.

I will pass on to you the cases where different internal entities may even consider themselves to be in competition or even be in fact in competition and, worse, that this is not accidental but intentional. Look at the deleterious relationship that exists between e-commerce and the store, which was initially thought of as two separate businesses, and you will have an excellent example.

The primary causes are diverse: “old school” culture, strict allocation of costs which means that collaborating outside a silo is seen as a waste of money (already heard “it’s my resource, if it takes an hour to help someone in another entity it’s money I lose”), lack of weight of transverse structures which are always caught up by the hierarchy

And the costs are known. Lack of responsiveness, innovation at low levels, collective inability to find solutions… these are the main problems of our companies. Too bad in a world where speed and large-scale cooperation are the only path to success.

An organization closed to the outside world

NIH. In three letters stands an evil that has prevented and still prevents organizations to progress, to find solutions to certain problems and especially to do so quickly when the worst enemy is time. NIH for “Not Invented Here“. Companies are totally allergic to what has been proven elsewhere and like to complicate their lives by wasting useless time to reinvent the wheel, sometimes not so well. I often say that it’s better to copy the method than the final result but there are limits.

Why? Because of another virus called MCID. “My Company is different.” So yes, as they say on the other side of the Atlantic “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” but still…It’s an easy excuse not to try, not to dare when there are a lot of things, changes, improvements that don’t suffer from the cultural barrier.

Companies that are so closed that even most takeovers and mergers and acquisitions struggle to create the value they expect. They are no longer outsiders, they are now from the same house, but it doesn’t matter. Even once the teams have been merged, there are still the “ex X’s” and “ex Y’s” and even five or ten years later you hear “oh no, he’s from a takeover”. The abolition of the legal frontier does not break down mental boundaries. Look at the resignation rate in the 1 to 2 years following such an operation and you will know if it worked well. So of course here culture plays its role, but beyond that the “us is us and the others are the others” remains firmly anchored.

I am not even talking about partnerships that, once again, too often have results far below expectations with two companies that hope that the other will bring in customers and that play the information retention game to the maximum.

Data to be freed

I also could not fail to mention the data. The siloing or even boxing of teams and individuals leads to the siloing of a lot of data.

Let’s take the example of customer data. The website has one part, the store another, the loyalty program a little bit, the marketing too, the customer service recovers the problems without the history. Each point of contact considers itself the owner of “its” data and keeps it jealously.

Result: a customer who at each step of his journey has to give the same information over and over again and does not understand that with everything that is known about him there is no way to reconcile all this to get a 360° view of his case and offer him a seamless experience. But that’s on the client’s side and that’s not the subject today.

On the other hand, internally, this same situation generates blockages, inefficiency and frustration. The paradox is that everybody would like the neighbour to share his data with him to do a better job but nobody does it until the others do it. And since everyone is evaluated on their own performance and not on the performance of the whole chain…

But the same applies to ” employee data “. As we saw a little while ago, in the organization almost everything is known about the employee, but only the “administrative” knowledge is shared. For the rest, everyone deals with what they have, information and context are not or hardly passed on from manager to manager over the course of their career, HR makes little or no link between skills (this is their job) and operational performance (this is the job of the managers)…and so on. Frustrating and inefficient once again for those who would like to have all the cards in hand to manage the employee’s career path and journey in the best possible way, and oh how irritating for the employee who feels that he or she is considered as just another number among others.

Ask those who at one time or another have chosen to join medium-sized structures, most often in their reasons for satisfaction they will cite more accessible people and less information retention. Here again there is no question of being idealistic: a company needs load-bearing walls and not all data and information can be shared.

But by dint of putting load-bearing walls everywhere, closing doors and windows and locking up data in a vault, we are no longer able to give employees the means to cope with the demands of speed and collaboration that are essential to their work.

Photo : employés isolés by Photobank gallery via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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