When it comes to breaking down silos, you might be surprised about where to start.

It’s common knowledge: Innovation is initiated from the bottom up. Young bucks attempting to change arcane business processes are thwarted by stodgy upper management. Right? Actually, no.

Major change often comes from the C-suite, with resistance coming from middle management. But why?

Silo thinking

When C-level managers want to initiate a major change, they hire consultants. The consultants drill into operations within each department or line of business. They are mining for process deficiencies that impact the rest of the organisation. The trouble is, sometimes middle managers are often totally unaware how their entrenched processes impact the rest of the organisation.

I’m reminded of a time I was working on an accounts payable consulting project. A lower-level IT manager with some technical knowledge was skeptical about the organisational change being implemented. He only wanted to know how this new technology would impact him and his department, rather than looking at how it would affect the company. The idea of cross collaboration between departments or business units just didn’t concern him.

Siloed thinking is particularly endemic in the retail sector where growth often comes through acquisition. Each newly acquired business wants to operate autonomously, even though greater efficiencies could be achieved through collaboration. When there are multiple legacy systems that all have the same job and often don’t play nice with one another, it results in inefficiencies that kill productivity.

What is clear to me time and time again is that anyone with true drive for change – whether sitting at headquarters or in remote offices – is interested in how change will make the entire organisation better. Without transparency into other areas of the organisation, many middle managers are unable to see how their business processes affect others. Without transparency, it’s impossible to see things holistically.

Taking a new approach

As part of Ricoh’s Business Process Agility (BPA) consulting group, it probably won’t surprise you that I approach problems like these from a BPA-first perspective. In today’s new world of work, it’s vital for companies to become proficient in embracing change, both internally and externally, with the aim of creating agile enterprises that can respond quickly to opportunities and challenges. And from what I see, many companies need help acquiring this agile mindset, but they often don’t know where to start, what their needs are or what their priorities should be.

This is where I think a BPA approach really shines. Such an approach allows us to take a holistic view of the entire enterprise while still listening to the individual departments, which can ultimately break down these roadblocks to change and position the organisation for the future.

We begin by determining business challenges and desired business outcomes, which can differ wildly by department. For example, IT executives generally see agility as being based primarily in technology, whereas business leaders can differ wildly by individual lines of business (LOB) – often prioritising issues important to that particular LOB. When working with LOB leaders and other stakeholders, we can prioritise goals and what constitutes success. This is where an outside perspective can be extremely helpful.

We then assess the different kinds of information that flow throughout the organisation to identify bottlenecks and identify areas of improvement. This is accompanied by a workflow analysis to identify and prioritise each process in need of change. Here, we determine priority based on the financial impact of each process improvement. In this process, we create a roadmap that incorporates these goals, projects and challenges into a holistic, adaptive model.

The end result is a transformation plan that addresses the needs of middle management, while still achieving the organisation’s overall goals.

It’s all about the results but they don’t matter unless they have real business impact. I believe that metrics – particularly financial – are crucial for this approach to succeed. While it can be difficult to calculate the financial impact of such programmes, the results can be felt when you can cut an entire accounts payable operation in half, save millions by sharing eCommerce resources across multiple retail operations, or combine 15 different legacy ERP systems into one. And it all starts with identifying these roadblocks to change.

Are you ready for change? Learn how other Canadian organisations are embracing change for the better at RicohChangeMakers.ca.