Gut Check Time: Are your Inefficiencies Institutionalized?


We are headed straight into the heart of summer vacation time and families all across the fruited plain will be loading up the SUV, tossing their 2.5 kids into car seats and heading out on road trips.

For many, those adventures will take them across the heartland and through other agricultural areas where they’ll see silos lined up, ready to store the summer bounty. However, where you don’t want to see silos is in your business, but these silos aren’t so much seen as “sensed.”

It’s very easy, even for a small business, to get into a silo mentality. This is when you have departments, or areas of responsibility, that take on their own identity and put up walls between themselves and other functional elements of your business.

Break the communication barrier

But communication between walls is difficult – if not impossible – and if this is happening in your business, you are losing opportunities. It’s time to start looking for and establishing “horizontal” connections within your small business organization.

I can almost guarantee you that some of the walls people have built around their departments, even if it’s a one-person department, is making it hard for someone else to get things accomplished. We tend to create unnecessary paperwork and rules, and these slow down processes.

Not long ago, we ran a piece written by Shep Hyken that discussed a restaurant that made up the rather silly rule of not allowing hamburger take out orders because a single customer had caused them problems by ordering too many burgers at one time. A school teacher friend once had a principal who would implement rules for all teachers to handle the problems she was having with just one teacher.

These are bad enough, but they get even worse because they create rules and procedures that get written in stone. The inefficiencies become institutionalized.

Let’s get together

Bring your team together to discuss these kinds of issues. Work to find the walls, the barriers, the problems and then break down the walls and solve the problems. The days of building silos are gone, but it takes leadership to instill a small business culture that is built on cooperation, not turf protection.

You will find all kinds of ways to be more profitable. For example, when you eliminate unnecessary processes, you free up people’s time and improve their attitude. You will have more satisfied employees with more time on their hands to accomplish the important things.

Where it’s feasible, cross train employees. Have employees switch jobs for a spell so new eyes can get focused on the problems and a new appreciation for what each other does can be developed.

Brand consistency

Let me give you a simple example of what happens when every department acts independently. I have seen workgroups that create their own letterhead for correspondence, or order their own premiums to hand out to customers or vendors. Often the designs on these items are inconsistent with one another.

In an age where image and branding are so important, these slip ups should not happen. If you start bringing people together, situations like this are easier to avoid.

So encourage your employees to start using their peripheral vision. They need to see what their neighbors are doing and understand what impact they are having on others. Do this and you can create a team that is all pulling in the same direction…and at the same time!