Chief Silo Buster: The Missing C Level Executive

Article contributed by Jeff Rosenblum, Co-President, Questus

At this point we can all agree that the world of marketing and advertising has been fundamentally changed. Thanks to mobile, social, and search technology, brands are now transparent, and the tools from yesteryear are no longer sufficient. Neither is the typical corporate structure.

Some corporations have taken an aggressive approach to this. For example, many corporations now have a Chief Listening Officer, who is responsible for ensuring that all types of technology, including social listening, are available at the C level suite. However, there is one critical C level executive that’s missing. That title is Chief Silo Buster. Or, if you prefer something slightly more realistic, the role of the Chief Operations Officer needs to be expanded to promote department integration.

Corporations can no longer operate in independently functioning silos, where advertising, customer service, finance, operations, and technology interact minimally. Many organizations still follow a waterfall approach where research leads to strategy, strategy leads to creative, creative leads to technology, and technology leads to finance. But the best organizations in the world have found a way to break down the boundaries that exist within brands and encourage them to communicate aggressively and proactively. They’ve found a way to locate areas of disconnect between departments and reconnect them.

Let’s look at an extremely simple example: the good old fashion usability test. Usability testing is absolutely critical because the navigability of a brand’s website enables visitors to complete tasks effectively and efficiently, and the overall design of a page has implications for larger brand perceptions. This is something that most companies fully understand, and a good research team will inevitably uncover some incredible brand insights.

But the fact of the matter is, if your research doesn’t include collaboration with design and technology, you’ll waste the opportunity to do truly groundbreaking work. If technology, for example, is not included in the usability process, technological limitations could make critical design recommendations unfeasible. If finance isn’t involved until the obligatory approval, certain fundamental recommendations may get trashed altogether. And if customer service, social media, and public relations are not included, they might misunderstand how the website could engage customers and create necessary brand evangelists. The most efficient businesses ensure that each of those departments are perfectly integrated at every point throughout the project. And while all of this seems terribly elementary, it’s rare enough to be science fiction. Usability is just one simple example. Typically a usability project runs around $50,000. What happens when corporations implement $500,000 and $5 million projects?

On this topic, there’s a lot we can take away from Walter Isaacson’s celebrated biography of Steve Jobs. But the one thing I respect the most is his weekly meeting with key department members. Every single Monday, Steve got all of his key department members in a room. Obviously a lot of these guys found it very difficult to meet every Monday because they were extraordinarily busy. But that was one of the powers of Steve Jobs; he would push people to do the impossible. And in this case he would push people to meet, to take time out of their schedule to ensure that the entire corporation was fully integrated. That’s how they were able to revolutionize the world of retail through Apple stores, the world of e-commerce through iTunes, and the world of customer support through the Genius Bar.

At Questus, we’ve taken a page from Steve Jobs’ book. Every Monday morning our entire office meets in the conference room for “Coffee Talk,” where we spend thirty minutes discussing weekends and each of our weekly deliverables. At these meetings we ensure that no department is left out of a project. It’s important to be inclusive, and it’s equally as important to bring free donuts.

Of course, Chief Silo Buster sounds like something better suited for Nintendo than for business. And although it may seem banal, the message remains true. Today, integration is probably the most important responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Operations Officer. We all know that it’s absolutely critical for departments to be completely integrated, and great brands are no longer built on simple interruptive messages. Yet integration will remain elusive unless corporations make it a core part of their value system and operational processes. And those that do will reap unprecedented rewards.