CAMBRIDGE, Mass., — Most companies are filled with spaghetti silos. Departments overlap without working together leading to disconnect in what the business needs.
Untangling spaghetti silos at the corporate level requires executives to move outside the corporate office and focus on frontline employees.
If there's anything done that isn't actually in the service of the frontline, it prevents a company from becoming "future ready," said Paul Gaffney, EVP and CTO of Dick's Sporting Goods, while speaking at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts Wednesday.
A business' — especially a retailer's — most important work is done in the moments between an associate and a customer.
Those "moments of truth" require executives to break down their silos and give the decision-making power to the rest of the business, said Gaffney. When executives don't account for the needs of other employees, from the frontline to the corporate office, the company is forced to keep "eating spaghetti in silos."
Breaking down spaghetti silos starts with reimagining "decision rights," or the rights of those who decide what the company should work on.
Headquarter employees often say they have the jobs that decide what gets done, and to a degree, they are right. But as a new generation of customers and software capabilities are introduced, it's becoming clear technology is challenging the decision rights of corporate leadership.
It's actually the customer and the frontline employee working who have always had the decision rights, said Gaffney. When leadership can honor the customer and frontline employee, it shifts the decision rights to where they need to be, though that alone is not the perfect "vaccine" for the problem.
There are a lot of systems in the hands of frontline associates that shouldn't be; they were "inflicted on them by someone in headquarters," he said. Corporate power comes from the ability to "undo" the infliction and as a result, "human happiness delivery goes up immediately."
There's a level of empathy needed for those on the frontline when making business decisions, especially decisions related to IT. Effective leaders are concerned with making the right call, said Gaffney. Ineffective leaders tend to implement practices and approaches that take small incremental de-risking steps, "led by dates and budgets and not happy humans."
Don't eat the spaghetti
Google reset the consumer expectation for powerful search. Apple did the same with the elegance and ease of its applications. Amazon is doing it now with quick processing and delivery solutions.
With each company's advancements, it's given consumers the right to hold other companies "ridiculously accountable" to integrate the same level of service, said Gaffney. "In the olden days, you could hide your organizational dysfunction" and it didn't matter if the internal structure didn't match up with what the customer thought.
The standards set by Google, Apple and Amazon introduced companies to the notion of "healthy shame" because customers regularly encounters companies' silos and shortcomings.
Exposed faults is a source of healthy shame for executives to really see and feel where their company needs help.
"Technology organizations are willing to wear the hair shirt of all the legacy complexity and not feel like they need to tell anybody," but when a company has "42 different ways to serve up a price, your customer will encounter that and most people don't like that," said Gaffney.
Ignoring the signs of healthy shame results is "shameless ignorance" where "it's very hard to motivate breaking down the silos," he said.
A transformational leader is one who can see what the customer and frontline associates see. There's no way to address silos and modernization without first understanding how much fragmentation is underneath customer-facing experiences.