Have you ever wondered why people working at the same organization sometimes seem to be working against each other? For instance, the C-suite does not know the issues confronting line workers, marketing is in a different world than sales, and no one talks to the technicians. In fact, this seems to be the norm more often than not.
The process of getting everyone in communication and doing their different jobs for the good of the whole is called workforce alignment.
How Workforce Alignment Pays Dividends
Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of being a customer of an organization that had achieved workforce alignment. This sort of company runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows their job, and if another department of the company can fill your need better than the department you’re in, the clerk readily tells you — or even walks you over to a clerk in the proper department. These workers know each other’s jobs well enough that it helps them all serve customers better than if they just stick to their own world – no jealousy or selfishness. The customer is clearly king.
It is a joy to work in a place like that – even magical. Those of us who have will never forget it. Unfortunately, some of us risk never experiencing that magic. But, there are ways to make it happen.
Work Magic in Your Organization
Some of you reading this blog may be business owners, others may be managers. Some of you may be looking for ideas on how to create workforce alignment in your own workplace. By the end of this two part series on workforce alignment, I hope you will all have some new ideas or techniques to create a cohesive workforce at your company.
Silo Mentality in the Workplace: Will It Ever End?
Even in a small organization, employees may compartmentalize themselves, or the employer may do that intentionally or unintentionally. Rarely does anyone want to compartmentalize, but here is a classic example of how it can happen:
- The founder or owner of a company wants to pursue what brought the organization into being. Let’s assume that is selling widgets. (What else ever gets sold in a case study, right?)
- He surrounds himself with people who only concentrate on and support selling widgets and does not do administrative tasks.
- Staff has to be hired to do administrative and other tasks, such as marketing, word processing and answering phones. These employees do not sell.
- If this owner is successful, more people have to be hired to sell widgets.
- If business is successful, more people have to be hired for administrative and other tasks.
Sounds good, right? Shouldn’t we all strive to be that growing organization?
An Organization That Competes Against Itself – Unthinkable!
While the above scenario sounds appealing because the company seems successful, the way the departments are separated can plant the seeds for real struggle down the line. And, once these patterns are established, people are often slow to acknowledge a problem exists or volunteer to change it.
In general, does anyone in management acknowledge when their organization is dysfunctional? If they do, are they effective in delivering the message that some adjustments to it need to be made? Often times it is organizational suicide to do anything but go along with the way it is.
Remember the Customer
As an organization grows, its focus on the customer can get lost. Is everything in the organization done to facilitate, or expedite, getting widgets to customers? Or has perpetuating the organization become the focus?
When considering if an organization should make an expansion, hire staff, buy or sell property, or change structure, a good question to ask first is, “What purpose does this serve in accommodating the customer?”
I suggest there should be a link to the customer in contemplating any action. That question provides a guide to growing an organization and to assessing if an organization is still on target in what it does. Take a look at the following questions and see how your organization would answer them:
- If a customer calls with a billing question, can the founder or owner of the organization help them?
- If a customer calls the main phone number and asks how much a widget costs, can the person who answers the call give them the basic pricing structure?
Haven’t we all been impressed by organizations where that happens? We realize they stand out from others because of this ability. And we’ve all been frustrated with the run-around we get when we, as customers, make the mistake of calling the “wrong part” of the organizations for help. I think to customers there should never be a “wrong part” of the organization.
Removing Silos in the Workplace or Tilting at Windmills?
As I ponder these troubles with separate departments, something bubbles to mind from high school literature class about Don Quixote and his hopeless and pointless obsessions. Somewhere in that memory are images of windmills and his attempts to joust (tilt) with them. Take a look at the following questions and use them as a measure of whether your organization is putting wasted effort into supporting silos in the workplace:
- Have aspects of your organization taken on such a life of their own that they have become difficult to change?
- Are they rigid in the protecting themselves against other parts of the organization? If so, we can consider them as silos – narrow, rigid, resisting penetration from the outside.
- Do the silos communicate with each other? If they do, is it only through formal structures? They might limit their communication to that path only, if they truly do not accept or see the reason to interact.
- Is it genuine communication if it has to be enforced this way? What will make them communicate better? Do I hear you say, “Focus on the customer”? I hope so.
If you know all of these things about your organization already but it feels like tilting at windmills is a more acceptable option than improving communication, working for a new company might be worth considering. Others would love to have someone like you with a true customer focus!
Recognizing and Fixing Your Workforce Alignment Weak Points
Sometimes organizations grow like Jack’s beanstalk- overnight! (That’s preschool literature, for those of you keeping score). Due to this growth, they may end up developing tunnel-vision. At some point, that headlong rush slows down. That is the point where the organization has to take stock of itself (wordplay, get it?). Let’s say that is what happened to the organization in our case study.
It now likely has rigid silos and neglected areas. The question is: Does it realize that this approach is unsustainable if the organization is to thrive long-term?
In my next post on workforce alignment, I will review the next steps for creating workforce alignment where it is lacking. We’ll cover the topics of recruitment, retention, cross- training and company culture, and discuss how they can be changed to make your workforce more cohesive, productive and customer-friendly.
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