The ‘silos’ mess at General Motors: what corporate SA could learn



If you are the type who is privileged to attend expensive seminars, how many times have you encountered some bespectacled ostensibly clued up consultant in a plush conventional centre in Johannesburg warning about the dangers of working in ‘silos’? Yet, preposterously, in some JSE listed entity or respectable government department, the IT and Human Resources departments might be operating as if one were located in Mars and the other in Venus. In different planets!

From the outside, the organisations appear to be well-oiled and perfect, but, it is a matter of when not if for the flaws to emerge. Often, belated efforts at redemption can be costly, if at all successful.

Corporate South Africa – both private and public sector – should learn about the dangers of letting different units that constitute them working separately, from the scandal involving US motoring giant, General Motors (GM), whose sordid details are still emerging. The powers that be at GM tersely rejected warnings from a’ lowly’ technician about the possible consequences of ignoring ignition failures that were in vehicles it had manufactured. Commonsense could have seen the problem in each vehicle being rectified, but they were released into the market, resulting in deaths. Consequently, the big corporation is now involved in an expensive PR exercise of managing the damage its oversight has done to its reputation as a manufacturer of failsafe vehicles.

GM has since issues 44 recalls of vehicles totalling 20 million, mostly in the United States. With its image battered, it would be interesting to see how the leviathan emerges from the carcass on which media vultures are having a feeding frenzy.

For observers globally, there are lessons to be had on working in silos. Transform SA recommends the following points for South African companies:

  • Centralised control of units stifles progress, but, have you not heard about the power of synergies? You might be different departments, but are in one company. So, compare notes and listen to each other. Don’t be condescending because you believe your department is more important.
  • Don’t treat a rumour of a transgression lightly. Investigate the root cause. Don’t wish it away. It won’t go on its own.
  • Those at the pinnacle of the hierarchy should listen to their subordinates. Even the hardworking lady in the ‘tea making department’ has a good point to make. Don’t be cocooned in a know-it-all mode!
  • The convenience of IT does not mean face to face interactions of the times Mandela was President should be extinct

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