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The C-level silo: Three main gaps and how to bridge them

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

Silos. We see them in IT, HR, and pretty much any department you can imagine. The C-Suite aren’t immune to them either. In fact, 59 percent of organizations admit to working in silos. The result? Disconnect between employees, but also, a disconnect between a business and its customers.

Those working on the front line are likely to recognize this disconnect, after all, they work directly with the user base on a daily basis. However, the C-Suite, those at the head of the organization who have surrounded themselves in their own exclusive bubble, are oblivious to this disconnect.

And this gives us a big problem. Why? Well, typically, these are the people who can drive change in the business. They can lead from the front and break down silos, but if they can’t even see the problems this disconnect is causing, they’re not likely to see the need for this change.

An eye-opening health check for the C-suite

With the C-Suite oblivious to the problems at hand, how can we open their eyes? And not only bring their attention to these issues but empower them to break down the disconnect. A health check at the doctor’s office is a really effective way of opening our eyes to some problems we’ve either been ignoring or been unaware of.

When the doctor tells us that we need to exercise more, sleep more, and quit bad habits like smoking, we listen. They’re the experts, and they can show us the proof we need as a reality check of our actions. Truthfully, it’s still up to us to make these changes. But we’ve been given the warning, our eyes have been opened, and there’s enough time to do something about it.

It’s time to give the C-Suite a health check of their own, focusing on where the business they’re leading is at. Open their eyes to the disconnect and give them the proof they need to kick start a program of change. Let’s take a look at the areas of focus for this health check:

1. Digital transformation

Digital transformation is the adoption of technology to improve processes and services. In the final months of 2019, this market was valued at a huge £3.6 trillion. For perspective, with that kind of money you could build Wembley Stadium, the home of English football, over 3,000 times.

Simply put, this is a staggering amount of investment by organizations. However, only 19 percent of customers reported any significant improvement in the experience offered to them. So, digital transformation is billed as a tool to improve services, and yet, with trillions of pounds of investment, still very few users noticed a difference.

What’s going on here? Well, it turns out that 68 percent of these digital transformation initiatives were business process-centered – therefore, internally focused. The first sign of disconnect.

The reality is that businesses exist because of their customers, so to ignore them when making improvements and investments is a recipe for disaster. Making internal enhancements isn’t the problem, the problem is the investment internally versus externally. As the C-Level silo protects them from their customers, it’s easy to ignore this aspect of the organization. But the more our customers are ignored, the more of them that will move elsewhere.

2. Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk

A recent study found that 75 percent of organizations believe themselves to be customer-centric, while at the same time only 30 percent of customers said the same – a classic case of talking the talk and not walking the walk.

We’ve established that digital transformation has accelerated the technology we use, our processes, and services, but perhaps it’s also caused us to lose touch with what’s going on, on the front line. Even those with direct contact with the user have a piece of technology between them during every conversation. Instead of chatting in person, it’s an email or a ticket on the self-service portal.

And 63 percent of business leaders say continuing to invest in this technology is their priority – the direct reason for losing touch with their users (here’s that disconnect again).

Now, investing in technology may seem safe, everybody’s doing it and everybody’s talking about it. But the study above showed a 45 percent gap in the value organizations think they’re bringing to their customers and what they’re actually bringing. Therefore, technology is not as safe as we think.

It’s time to acknowledge that we have lost touch, not question if we have, and find ways to re-connect in the digital age to become customer-centric. The focus of investment should be on employee experience (providing them with the technology and knowledge to bridge the gap that technology creates) and customer experience (adapting technology so that it’s more friendly for our users). If we want to be able to talk the talk when it comes to customer-centricity, we must walk the walk first, and this is the way to do it.

3. The silo mentality

The problems we’ve spoken about: investing internally rather than externally and pushing technology despite its limitations when it comes to communication, are results of the C-Suite creating this silo around themselves.

They make the decisions and drive the course of their organization. By excluding themselves from valuable insight into their customers through staying in their ‘safe and comfortable’ silo, they’re making decisions based on guess work and not customer demand. The result is the disconnect between the company and its users, which is growing.

Not only is their silo affecting decision making, but it’s being filtered down through the organization. Their behavior is reflecting on their employee’s behavior and the way departments operate. This breaks down communication, creates barriers, drives inefficiencies when collaborating, duplicates costs, and wastes time.

Instead, we should be looking to the likes of Elon Musk who run by the ‘no silo rule’. Any team within their organization who started to build a silo is to be eliminated. They understand that silos are detrimental to organizational success, and lead by the front when it comes to avoiding the dreaded C-Level silo.

Taking action from the health check

Our C-Level health check has highlighted some very real issues that are created by the silo around our business leaders. But, as with the reality check from the doctor, we have time to rectify these problems.

Once the C-Suite break through their silo we can ask the questions: when making improvements, where shall we focus our efforts? Let’s not make the age-old mistakes of focusing internally only to fall short of actually making any significant improvements for our customer base.

Rather than jumping ahead of the game when it comes to technology with AI and automation, is it best to focus our efforts elsewhere? Getting rid of legacy systems and improving collaboration between our teams, departments, and with our customers, can provide far more value than an untried and untested piece of tech.

And finally, by ending the silo mentality within the C-Suite can we change the course of the entire organization? The way that leaders operate casts a shadow on the rest of the organization, ditching this harmful way of working could be the simplest way of not only making the business more efficient, but for making employees happier, and customers more satisfied.

There is currently a disconnect between the C-Suite and its customers, but there are clear opportunities that we’ve discussed to re-connect. At the end of the day, the thing that’s going to keep us running and successful in the future is our customers, so let’s start putting them first.

The data in this article is from a survey of 500 C-Suite professionals carried out in 2020 by TOPdesk UK.

Sumit De, head of UK consultancy, TOPdesk (opens in new tab)

Sumit De is the head of consultancy at TOPdesk UK.