As a business grows, its leaders can lose touch with all the nitty-gritty details about its workforce: Is John actually managing Sally? Is Sally seeking guidance from Jim? And what about Tom? Is he encouraging the IT department to work with the HR department’s recent rollout of the bring-your-own-device movement?
When a company reaches a certain size, formerly tight-knit team members can become so focused on their own individual responsibilities that they start establishing boundaries to keep outsiders from coming in. In other words, those employees were able to carve departmental silos for themselves right under your nose. Although this type of mentality is often chalked up to organizational growing pains, it can spell disaster for even the most successful company if left unchecked.
This problem is one of the many reasons why I founded Syndio and why the people analytics industry has experienced rapid growth over the past five years. The insights that can be gained by implementing a people analytics strategy are necessary for breaking down silos in organizations. Without knowing the inner workings of an organization, its leaders may miss issues that can hinder innovation and growth.
As staff members play “telephone” up the organizational hierarchy, information takes longer to disseminate, collaboration stalls, and messages are distorted. What’s more, all of those inefficiencies eventually become the norm, which costs you time, energy, market share and money.
By creating connections between these silos, however, you have it in your power to give your employees more access to knowledge and inspire faster communication and better collaboration. These tactics will allow your company to harness the competitive advantage necessary to meet customers’ needs more efficiently — whether your company provides goods, services, or a combination of both.
Implementing People Analytics in Your Organization
People analytics combine different types of data to create one statistical picture. First, you have e-data, gathered using an API. This can include data from everything from Outlook emails to Yammer chats. Next, you have HR data, which encompasses the standard attributes of age, gender, title, and salary. Lastly, you have relational data, which comes from asking your employees questions about their own relationships with other employees. By combining these types of data, you get a holistic view of your company.
Often, companies miss the relational data component, which is exactly what my company focuses on with survey-based questionnaires. This isn’t just an annual engagement survey, which typically shows skewed results because employees feel pressured by their managers and co-workers to give positive answers.
Without employee opinions, company leaders never truly know how co-workers feel about other co-workers. The same is true for how employees feel about their organizations as a whole. For example, a manager and a direct report could email and meet regularly, but the direct report may feel like he isn’t learning anything of value from the manager. Relational data gives that employee the chance to express that.
I believe strongly in asking peer-to-peer questions (e.g., “Who motivates you?” or “Who teaches you?”) to gather realistic insights about an organization’s overall sentiment. Without software, you would need to hold face-to-face meetings and focus groups or send out internally created surveys, which can be difficult for large organizations.
To break down silos — or at least bridge them — consider the following:
1. Invest in people analytics. OK, this one’s obvious. If you don’t realize your company has silos, you’re missing out on an opportunity to make departmental changes that lead to efficiencies. Those very efficiencies can improve profits.
Companies can invest in creating their own people analytics strategy using meetings and surveys. To replicate the data visualization that is seen with many people analytics companies, free DIY tools such as NodeXL and Gephi are helpful. For larger companies with more available budget, there are a number of people analytics companies on the market with different tools and methods; choosing the right one just depends on the specific needs of the company.
2. Determine where silos exist. With people analytics, you can remove silos by making structural changes to certain departments. However, you may also discover an employee who’s already bridging a gap between two departments, and you could direct training and development dollars toward that person to better support his or her work in connecting the two teams.
3. Find other bridges. If you have one person acting as a bridge, odds are you have more. Establish a “connect the connectors” strategy so the most connected people in your company are affiliated. This forms a supercharged group of people who can work toward connecting the company as a whole.
4. Encourage behaviors that prevent silos. If you lack the time to focus on this responsibility, make it someone else’s duty. Many consumer packaged goods companies are forming “communities of practice” to bring together experts in different areas to share ideas about keeping departments connected and collaborative.
Dismantling silos isn’t an easy task, especially if they’re institutional. People get set in their ways and can become resistant to change. But if you continue to turn a blind eye, you could end up dealing with silos within silos, causing the people within your departments to become more isolated than ever. By addressing these silos at their head using people analytics, you have the best possible chance of doing good for employee happiness and company success.
Zachary Johnson is the CEO and co-founder of Syndio, an enterprise people analytics company based in Chicago. Syndio helps large organizations use network science to systematically measure intangible aspects of employee-to-employee communication like trust, information sharing, and collaboration and to use this knowledge to dramatically improve talent management, innovation, and change initiatives.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.