Monday, January 2, 2012

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars by Patrick Lencioni

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars must be the sixth management fable of Patrick Lencioni's that I've read. His books are all relatively easy reads, each centered around a fictional tale of a business problem and how it can be solved. In this case he addresses the issue of departments within an organization looking out for their own well-being instead of the health of the organization. These silos, like Sales or Engineering or Legal, focus narrowly on their own vertical function at the expense of the company.

The crux of this Lencioni fable is that teams usually pull together in the face of a crisis - like when the company is on the verge of going out of business. In the book, the protagonist's ah-ha moment comes during a visit to the hospital emergency room and he observed doctors, nurses, orderlies, and administration working well together.

The moral of this fable is that tearing down silos involves four things: a thematic goal, a set of defining objectives, a set of ongoing standard operating objectives, and metrics.

The thematic goal for the organization is a qualitative objective shared by all departments that applies for a specified time period. For example, a thematic goal might be completing a merger within six months, releasing a new product within a year, or rebranding existing products this quarter. The thematic goal is not a vision statement (because that exists outside a particular time frame) nor is it a number (like a sales target).

The defining objectives, while still qualitative, help define exactly what is meant by the goal. For example, if your goal is to complete the merger of two companies you might have objectives like eliminate redundancy, align products and marketing, and retrain employees.

Standard operating objectives are the normal things that departments within a company do in the normal course of business: income goals, product development, cost containment etc. They are included to acknowledge that they must continue to be addressed regardless of the current thematic goal but also to identify that they are not directly tied to achieving the thematic goal like the defining objectives are. Therefore, priority can be maintained on the defining objectives.

Finally, metrics are defined for the objectives (target numbers or dates) as a tool for monitoring progress on achieving the thematic goal. These metrics may also simply be rankings like red-yellow-green status, or a scale of 1-5. This prevents the use of overly detailed metrics.

So rather than wait for a crisis to pull your departments together, why not create one in the form of a time-limited thematic goal? Get your management team to commit to that goal and use it to guide the organization's progress.

Again, Lencioni echoes something advocated by another management guru, Verne Harnish - the setting of quarterly themes. Whereas Harnish presents this as more of a how-to guide, Lencioni's fables are a bit more digestible in one sitting.

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