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Mind the Gap: Breaking Down Silos

Part 1:  Getting Started.

Kevin LeessilosBy Kevin Lees

For IT to truly transform into an effective, business-focused service provider it has to do more than implement an enabling technology like software defined data center, though that’s certainly a great start. In fact, according to the recently published State of IT Transformation analysis done by EMC and VMware, 95% of participants believe having an IT organization that has no silos and works together to deliver business-focused services at the lowest cost is critical.  Yet, not astonishingly based on experience, less than 4% reported they currently operate like this. That’s quite a gap!

According to the same analysis, operating without silos was one of the top 10 goals in all but one of the industries represented in the study (17 of 18 industries) and was in the top 11 for all industries. Thankfully, while there is a significant gap between desire and current state, IT operating without silos is top of mind and viewed as critical to success regardless of industry. So how do you navigate this gap? Where do you start? How do you proceed without causing an anxiety attack or worse, intransigence, within IT? In this two part blog, we’ll walk through some critical steps we use for closing this gap.

Step 1:  Secure an Executive Sponsor

First and foremost you have to realize and acknowledge that the biggest challenges you will face in breaking down silos are cultural and in all likelihood political challenges. That has been my experience and that of my colleagues when working with companies to break down their IT silos. And of the two, the political challenge can be the harder to overcome.  Which brings us to the first step in closing the gap: getting executive sponsorship and not just any executive sponsorship, you need proactive executive sponsorship.

You need an enthusiastic, proactive executive sponsor for this kind of change.  Indeed, that’s your number one goal – to have an executive involved who completely embraces this idea and the change it requires, and who’s committed to proactively supporting you.  He or she is critical to success in many ways, not the least of which in overcoming the cultural and political challenges. To overcome these challenges the executive sponsor has to have the enthusiastic support of those in the management chain of the organization in which the silos exist.

But how to you generate the enthusiasm when we know how resistant some people are to change, especially change that might affect their span of control?

Step 2:  Sell the Change

Work with the executive sponsor to craft a communication plan aimed at both the management chain and the organization as a whole. When building the communication plan, you would ideally derive the intent for the change from a strategy and roadmap focused on transforming IT into a service provider to the business that has both executive and business support. If not, developing that IT transformation strategy and roadmap becomes step one!

The communication plan should focus on why you’re making the change, why it is critical for the business, and what value embracing it has for the affected IT managers and employees– what they stand to gain as individuals.  And individuals do stand to gain, for example through recognition, increased visibility, opportunity to participate in something truly innovative, obtaining new skills that are highly valued in both the company and the industry, and new career opportunities. The goal is to make participating in the change aspirational. But enthusiasm only goes so far. You also have to provide them a safe way to modify their behaviour – as well as provide a little extra nudge to those in management who are still a bit reluctant to change.

Step 3:  Modify Behavior

Modifying behaviour is a key step but one that is overlooked more often than not. This involves modifying annual performance review criteria, and bonus critera if applicable, to reflect the desired outcome.  If this is not done individuals will default to their incentivized behaviour when prioritization decisions need to be made – or, for a few, as an excuse for not fully embracing the change.  Modifying this criteria is absolutely critical for the management chain in order to help address the political challenge. It’s also important for members of the silos whose walls are to be torn down, as we’ll see in the final step.

Step 4:  Break the Silos

I say the “final step” but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the final step can take some time and consists of many activities as it is the actual breaking down of the silos. In part two of this blog I will focus on the approach we have found to be successful when undertaking this type of organizational change.

Kevin Lees is Principal Architect for VMware’s global Operations Transformation Practice and is based in Colorado.


3 thoughts on “Mind the Gap: Breaking Down Silos

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  3. George Schwartz

    Hi Kevin, I had the opportunity to architect and build my technology team with no silos. This approach has unified and strengthened the team as they work as one cross trained unit. I look forward to the second part of your blog.
    George Schwartz, CTO

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