Like most people, I like to think ahead this time of year. What can I do to improve things next year, both personally and professionally? One thing I think we can all do better is to poke our heads up out of the ground occasionally and take a good look around.

What is really going on in business, and how should we prepare ourselves and our businesses to thrive in the coming years? Are we still mired in survival mode, or is that merely an excuse for stagnancy in our thinking? Let’s take a look at some of the mega-trends that steer business these days and think about how we can adapt to change.

The End of the Silo

We used to be departmentalized – in our companies, in our thinking and in the tools we use for business. In Sales and Marketing you had Marketing responsible for reaching potential customers, Sales responsible for transforming them into customers and Customer Service responsible for keeping them as loyal customers. Not anymore. Business is rapidly moving to an online, on-demand, personalized model where the customer is in control and shopping, delivery and service are largely automated. In this fast-paced environment you don’t have time for a handoff from one silo to the next. Consumers still want to deal with a person, but that’s just it. They want to deal with one person who will give them what they want, information and service. The old idea of putting someone on hold while you switch them to the appropriate department is cold and rotting in the grave.

Is social media the next customer service channel? Not if it’s siloed. If you have one person writing Facebook updates about the newest widgets on the market and another person tweeting about customer service with inconsistent messages, what are you telling the customer community? That’s right, you’re confusing them. They will find a better place to get what they want.

Siloing is also dead in business software. There is no time for pulling up several different apps and moving data from one to the next to get some answers. All apps must be flexible and use open API’s that allow data to be transferred instantly and seamlessly between them. This does not necessarily mean that the Microsofts of the world will make a comeback with their digital dashboards and software suites. Instead, it probably means that developers will be creating customized apps for different uses that openly talk to each other and allow end-users to finally put together a toolbox that fits their needs.

The Office

Anyone who has been to Disneyland (or World) lately realizes just how antiquated the technology seems these days. We have apps on our smart phones that make these once-futuristing rides now seem like museum pieces. I see the same thing in today’s office. Why do we need to cram a bunch of people in a room and make them work the same hours every day, 40 hours a week? Weird idea, huh? I guess the idea was that managers could keep an eye on everybody and make announcements once instead of a hundred times. Hmmm, seems like a Disneyland thing. Do managers actually check on anybody, and can’t they do that electronically? Do meetings need to be held in a conference room? No, of course not. More to the point, does the office actually increase productivity and maintain corporate secrecy better that any other working model? I don’t think so. The office model “per se” is on the way out, and companies that don’t move on will be left without employees soon enough.

The Boss

OK, so we haven’t truly evolved yet. We’re still lemmings who follow the leader in most cases. We’ve been arguing about managers vs. leaders for many years, but we still haven’t figured out how to run our businesses without alienating everyone in the organization. We need to think about this, because the company of the future will not be siloed and business will not be conducted in a traditional office. Who should be running the show, and what should he/she be doing?

  • Is it the entrepreneur who has more skill building a business than running one?
  • Is it the senior manager who has “earned it” by outlasting everybody else and not rocking the boat?
  • Are they project managers heading up their teams (hmmm, sounds like silos to me)?
  • Should we bring in an experienced manager with a long resume of jumping from company to company to fix things? Good quick way to destroy a close-knit team.

These things all need to be sorted out, but they really need to be done now. You see, the name of the game these days is adapting to change. Markets are changing. Business models are changing. The workforce is changing. Everything is changing. If you aren’t leading the charge, surely you are being overtaken.

Got ideas or examples? Let’s hear them.