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
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
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
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
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.