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A Bridge Over Troubled Silos

Bob Brock

Everyone complains about having to work in silos. It’s truly challenging to be isolated from other units within the same organization when a more strategically collaborative approach would be greatly beneficial or even critical.

So just about everyone agrees with, or claims to agree with, the knock-em-down approach to silos.  Yet, funny thing, no one ever seems to succeed at it.  Silos in the workplace are as strong as ever, and just as frustrating.

So here’s an idea:  Keep the unit silos in place!  In fact, celebrate them and support their unilateral operation and inalienable right to stay independent.  Just one minor addition.  Build a tiny little bridge between them – a little thing – a link from one territorial, invincible, everlasting silo to another.

It’s the old “unite and conquer” strategy.  And as a result… you’ll never guess…you can actually successfully create interlinked networks of impregnable, independent silos, all standing on their own, yet all working in tandem toward common goals!  Hoo-rah!

The tiny little bridge with the kind of power you need to link silos together is none other than…the brand platform.

There are many great examples of how a brand platform has brought together even the most adamantly independent work groups. Several weeks ago in Boston, for example, we presented one of these, a case study of how Virginia Tech bridged the prototypical unit divisions by using its powerful brand platform and strategic tagline, “Invent the Future” not just for institutional marketing, but for admissions marketing and even for a high-stakes capital campaign.

It wasn’t all roses to convince the different parties involved to adopt the same tagline, design framework and messaging. It’s not all that common when it comes to capital campaigns to use the institutional identity, creative framework, and brand.  But the collaborative Hokie spirit prevailed, and you can’t argue with the impressive results.

As of late 2011, Tech’s capital campaign had handily exceeded its $1 billion campaign goal – completed in one of the worst down markets in decades. Meanwhile ,the University has also racked up outstanding awareness and image-enhancement gains as well as ongoing strategic enrollment improvements.

This case study was initially presented at the annual Eduventures client conference in Boston in June – a very impressive and highly productive event for institutions that partner with Eduventures for advancement and consulting needs.  The audience included about 80 top professionals (of the 250 total in attendance) from three traditionally siloed units:  Advancement, Alumni, and Admissions.

As as part of the bridging strategy, Eduventures’ savvy new president, Mark Nemec, structured multiple sessions that put professionals from the various campus “silos” together in the same room, talking about the same issues.  It’s was a great strategy to help lay the foundation for those bridges we’re talking about.  As you might imagine, the methods for bridging silos was a hot topic, and extremely productive.

So next time someone at your institution says, “We ought to break down these silos,” try suggesting the bridging approach. It worked for Virginia Tech and dozens of our other clients, and might just be the true silo solution you’re looking for.

Check out more of results of Virginia Tech’s bridge silos in the presentation slides below.

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