Anyone who has ever tried to sell something, anything, to a larger company has run into “no” or worse, no response, from the person who should be looking at the product. There are certainly some valid reasons for the “no” – but quite often, even when the product is clearly – obviously a “yes” for the company, they still get a “no” because the would-be buyer is threatened by the product. Why are they threatened? There are several potential reasons:
- Fear of job loss. They worry that this product will put them out of a job.
- Fear of not getting the bonus/promotion on their annual goals list. They already have this item on their list of annual goals, so if some software product solves things for them, they won’t get credit and they won’t get their bonus.
- Fear of asking their boss for money. If they ask their boss for money for a product, there could be a “why do I need you if this is here?” discussion.
- Fear of collaborating across teams/silos. Everyone is measured differently and there’s no way to get a collective “yes” on this sort of thing.
Any or all of these happen all day every day in most very large organizations. These are what I call “boogeyman problems” the fear is not ever going to materialize into what they are afraid of – spoiler alert – there is no boogeyman (I know some spell it with one “o” – that seems strange to me).
But I am getting a little ahead of myself. This really traces to company culture. I worked with a company in Boston called Altitude which has since merged with Accenture, and someone on their team came up with this model related to company culture:
The basic idea is that there are three different types of companies, those that are data-driven (like a lot of manufacturing companies), those that are consensus-driven (Starbucks is a vivid example of this), and those that are vision-driven (Apple under Steve Jobs is a great example of this). This table (from the folks at Altitude) is really useful for thinking through the different ways in which companies operate. I do think that Silo-driven is a 4th that should be in the mix, and there is no shortage of those.
The big question is – is the organization behaving rationally when it comes to making business decisions? The alternative is that it’s behaving politically or selfishly and that flips the benefit to the individual rather than the company and that’s a very dangerous place to go. Harvard Pilgrim Health was found themselves to be in this spot, and as a result they “drifted” into a different operating model, and when they “woke up” from this, it was very painful to navigate back to rational ground.
How does this happen? There are probably endless reasons – some of it is in the quality of people hired. The old adage that A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s (because B’s know they are B’s and don’t want to hire anyone that’s a threat) is absolutely true – and probably plays some role in this. The B’s are the ones that my friend Kumar Mehta (author of the truly great book on innovation – The Innovation Biome) refers to as the ones that say “no” to new ideas, because “no” is so much easier than a “yes” answer.
The real trick is gathering examples of how to get companies out of this silo culture. It’s not easy, but it has been done and there will be more blogs on this site with those examples for the companies that, like Harvard Pilgrim, have “drifted” – to return to rational behavior. Stay tuned.