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The Silo Height Index Project

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Enterprises need to become more cognitive — a point made in The Cognitive Enterprise and reinforced in quite a few of our weekly conversations.

And yet so far as I can tell, enterprises are, if anything, becoming less and less like organisms that act with intention. They aren’t even doing a good job of acting like mechanisms, as my process-oriented consulting brethren recommend.

No, taken as a whole, your average enterprise seems bent on devolving into a collection of semi-autonomous squabbling siloes.

It’s like this: If OODA loops are how enterprise cognition operates, informal collaboration is the cultural attribute that allows it to happen. And organizational siloes with high walls and impermeable boundaries are the single biggest organizational barrier to informal collaboration.

It’s time to do something about it. Here’s what I have in mind.

The Challenge

We need a metric — a way to measure silo height that satisfies the 6 Cs of good metrics. In case you haven’t read chapter 3 of the KJR Manifesto, they are:

  • Connected to important goals.
  • Consistent, always going one way when getting closer to the goal and the other way when getting further away.
  • Calibrated, so the act of measurement yields the same results whoever takes the measure.
  • Complete, because anything you don’t measure you don’t get.
  • Communicated because otherwise, what’s the point? Metrics drive behavior — that’s the most important reason to have them.
  • Current, because business goals change, but not if how the business measures itself doesn’t.

Fortunately, while we’re pretty much starting from scratch when it comes to measuring silo height, we do have a model we can use to help jumpstart the process — the Net Promoter Score.

Most business leaders understand that customer satisfaction matters, which means measuring it matters too. But measuring the psychological state of a customer is no easy task. It’s more like a fool’s errand than a difficult but rewarding undertaking.

And so was born the Net Promoter Score (NPS) (credit to Fred Reichheld) — a tool based on an easy-to-ask, easy-to-answer question: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to your friends?

If the NPS stopped with giving companies a measurement it would have limited value. But it doesn’t: Companies that participate in the NPS project also see statistics for their industry as a whole, which provides a sense of how they’re situated in their competitive landscape.

This is invaluable.

And finally, Bain & Company, the folks who own and administer NPS, are in a position to correlate NPS with business performance. No, correlation doesn’t prove causation, but it’s better evidence than just taking it all on faith.

The Silo Height Index Project (SHIP)

Here’s the plan, such as it is. We need to:

  • Develop a simple question or short set of questions that can be answered on a 1 to 10 or equivalent scale and that will reliably reveal an organization’s silo height — it will be a calibrated measure.
  • Promote the concept widely enough to reach critical mass — enough participants to do some statistical slicing and dicing with the results so the results are interesting enough to matter.
  • Establish a repository to manage the data. Following the principle of permeability, this should be made widely accessible at no charge, to give anyone interested the ability to play with the data. But, the public database can’t contain any … what shall we call it … Corporately Identifiable Information (CII) … so we’ll also need a private database that does contain CII. This will allow for follow-up research of a more sensitive nature, should that prove desirable.
  • Flesh out the business model. I’d like this to be an open-source-like effort without it being a crowdsourced effort. I’ll take initial responsibility for curation, but there’s always the danger of success — it by some strange combination of circumstances this catches on in a serious way, I don’t want to become a pothole in the road of progress.

If you find the concept appealing enough that you’d like to work on it … and I do mean work; this won’t happen without real effort … please send me an email letting me know what aspects of SHIP you’d like to participate in, and what qualifications you have for doing so.

One more thing: If you like the idea, spread it around. There’s no time to start promoting this like the present, so please forward this edition of Keep the Joint Running to anyone and everyone you know who might want to be in on it.

Launching this SHIP (I had to) is going to be a long shot, but what the heck. Even long shots sometimes find their target, and this target is certainly worth shooting at.

Comments (5)

  • “… a collection of semi-autonomous squabbling siloes.”

    In biological terms, cancer?

    • Well, I was thinking more in terms of competing species and predator/prey relationships within an ecosystem, but cancer works as a metaphor. I wonder if autoimmune diseases like lupus might be an even better one.

  • I’m 82 and been retired (mostly for around 5-6 years). The first source I thought of was “Playing to Win” by Lafley and Martin, mostly as a source of inspiration and orientation. Confining themselves to P & G simply means participants just have to expand their thinking to think silos, but moving the book’s concepts into the silo area shouldn’t be too difficult or am I missing a point? From 1988 to about 2010 or so I consulted in a very narrow band of forest management in Southeast Alaska. Prior to that was in forestry in big companies in the lower 48 for about 22 years.So I don’t think I am qualified to help. Too damn old and away from it. I wanted to work until 80 years at least, but the industry went down the toilet.

    On the flip side I read all the stuff you put into “Keep the Joint Running.” Also serious nonfiction books, The Economist, The New Yorker. They keep me tuned in and stretch the mind a bit. Pete

  • Best I’ve got is the ratio of downward directed communication to sideways communication. I’m not sure it gets you a height, but it does give you a wall thickness – which would be in ratio to height if there were materials involved.

    One problem is that a single group of people may be in their own silo – but if their silo is important to the business, the height of their silo becomes defacto height of all silos.

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