How can HR destroy the 'silo mentality'?

by Nurhuda Syed30 Nov 2018

The silo mentality can negatively impact productivity and employee morale as well as contribute to an unhealthy culture at the workplace. Overcoming silos has thus been something many organisations have tried, failed and tried some more.

But there might be some light at the end of this dim tunnel – digital disruption seems to be acting as the catalyst for organisations to achieve the elusive outcome.

“The thing with disruption is there’s no longer a function-focused role,” said Connie Chan, HR senior manager, Asia F&A, IT & legal at Procter & Gamble (P&G). “It’s how you bring everything together.”

Chan’s colleague, Sanjay Singh, chief information officer and director, APAC & EMEA piped in how it’s more apparent now that professionals are multi-functional that “you can hardly point out who is IT or HR”.

Undeniably, “becoming multi-functional” is not something you can do overnight as a breakdown of silos doesn’t only require a clear strategy. It requires a certain tenacity, which may be even more difficult for complex organisations – especially if they’re as large as P&G.

It has to be said that a breakdown of silos doesn’t mean that everyone will become a master of none. The aim is to be a master of one and still be flexible enough to be a “Jack of all trades”. Your expertise on the ins and outs of HR, and especially on how people tick, still holds immense value to an organisation – it’s just how that knowledge is applied to the bigger company strategy that will change.

HR-IT partnership to drive transformation
HR and IT has a strong partnership at P&G, especially as both work together to transform the workforce and get everyone future-ready. Singh attested to how HR has played an important role in pushing for transformation at the company.

“Our HR team truly understands the pulse of our employees and what they need,” Singh said. “Technology is only a ‘how’ and not an end in itself, so we started with a complete partnership with HR.

“Connie is such a trained professional on technology herself. There was one day when she came to us with a smile saying that the team had created their website over the weekend. I think that’s what we want people to feel when they deal with technology.”

He added that the IT team has always had immense support from HR when working on digitizing processes at the company. One of the first few partnerships between HR and IT involved a digital immersion of the leadership team as Singh believed that it’s important to get the top rank on board before changes can take place across the rest of the organisation.

In addition to partnerships on specific large-scale projects like company-wide events and a gamification of technology learning, Singh shared that HR and IT partner on an ongoing basis to ensure that employees remain relevant.

How HR can push for partnerships
What’s evident from talking to both Singh and Chan is how responsibility to get the workforce future-ready is neither solely HR’s nor IT’s. Both play their part in suggesting the best way to approach the issue.

“HR and IT had talked about building the digital capability of the workforce and getting them future-ready,” Chan said. “And when we first discussed it with Sanjay, we didn’t want it to only be about technology. We wanted it to be business [relevant] and technology-enable workers.”

She explained that pushing to transform a workforce is not easy because typically the first thing that people will suggest is to simply have a technology training session.

“But I said if you do it that way, people will not come,” she said. “We suggested to identify business cases and show employees\ how you can use technology to do things differently.”

When pushing to do things a certain way, Chan said that you have to firstly identify specific problems that other teams can relate to. And if you can find something that people believe adds value to the work they do, they will invest time into it.

“If you’re not clear on the problem, I don’t think anyone will want to spend time on it,” she said.

“And to be honest sometimes it’s also about trial and error. You try a few different problems and find that some may be more relevant to people than others.

“Also I feel like if now is not the time that people want to deal with something, it doesn’t mean that it’s not important. You may just have to prioritise and deal with a relevant problem first.”

How to break silos and work together
Curious about how the different teams have remained committed to working together, we asked the leaders how P&G managed to break down the silos between them.

“This is a fundamental challenge for all organisations today: how to break silos and work together,” Singh said. “We have our own successes and failures around this. I think what it involved is a deep engagement for months.”

He shared that the first thing the company did was explain the “why” behind the need to transform. Once it became clear to the people that it was about “me” and how “I’m going to benefit from it”, you can start to sense a culture change where people become more willing to share their knowledge for a greater good.

“Also, I think the change happened when leadership started discussing it,” he said. “We agreed that the time had come not to think in functions anymore, but in outcomes, and to put the right people – whether from finance, HR or IT – to solve problems together.”

He said that when people saw leadership taking the step and its impressive results, everyone perked up and started to see the reward in the mechanism of making work function-agnostic.

“I think we’ve been able to create that environment because when people saw the success [of cross-function partnerships], there was a gravitation that pulled them into such ‘modes’,” he said.

“It’s something we need to sustain because it’s something that’s easy to break. I think it’s the leadership’s job to ensure that the partnerships continue as a culture.”

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