Earlier this year Harvard Business Review published results of a large-scale study of 8,000 managers from 250 organizations on the topic of why strategy execution unravels. The data were a big surprise to many, especially related to the managers’ confidence – or lack thereof – in others to deliver on promises. While a full 85 per cent reported they could rely on their boss and direct reports either ‘all or most of the time’, only about 60 per cent placed the same confidence in colleagues in other departments. Indeed, commitments by colleagues in other functional areas were seen as no more reliable than promises made by external suppliers and distributors.
What happens when organizations aren’t aligned horizontally? An interesting phenomenon occurs, which I like to refer to as ‘silo’ fever. It’s caused by departments/functions that are focused on their objectives to the detriment of peers in other departments, who are in turn not receiving what they need from other departments to be effective. Left unchecked, silo fever can fester and grow, resulting in duplicated efforts, delayed deliverables – and conflict between functions and units.
If you think your organization is suffering from silo fever, here’s some tips to ensure that horizontal, or cross-functional alignment, is not ignored.
First, ensure that your objectives – be it for the strategic plan, the annual plan or even a project plan – are set in a team setting versus a one-on-one setting with the team leader. In a team setting, each person, who is likely to be a leader of his/her own team, can ensure that what is required as outputs from peers are clear with measurable standards of performance.
Next, establish what specifically is required from peers with respect to dependencies. What does Operation need from Engineering, Logistics, HR and IT to be successful? What are the outputs, the metrics of success and the objectives to be met? Capture these items in a document that serves as a blueprint for the project.
This document should be given the very same consideration as a Service Level Agreement (SLA), a contract between a service provider and the end user that defines the level of service expected from the provider. SLAs are often used when an outside vendor/service supplier is involved, however these days, I often recommend that leaders establish SLAs with internal departments. For example, Operations could have an SLA with Engineering that lays out what quality specifications for new product designs must be submitted and by when; it could also have a separate SLA with HR, outlining the recruitment protocol and timelines for job openings.
SLAs are not a new idea for external suppliers, but they are increasingly being used internally. I fully support the idea, as a way to facilitate horizontal alignment.
As any organization can attest, achieving a balance between vertical and horizontal alignment is a key component of strategy execution excellence. Such balance leads to increased productive communication and less conflict between functional units.
Importantly it also leads to fewer cases of silo fever.