What If Gift Cards Could Solve Your Silo Problem?

July 27, 2022
July 27, 2022 Jamie Notter

Since the dawn of organizations there have been issues with silos. To be clear, we need silos—they don’t really need to be “busted.” They just need to be better at working together seamlessly. It’s okay to have “fences” that divide your functions, just have them be little three-foot-high picket fences people can step over when they need to—not nine-foot high chain link fences with razor wire! That’s easier said than done, of course. But here’s an interesting solution that we’ve seen some clients using to at least make a dent in their silo issue: recognition programs.

Recognition programs usually end up added as culture plays to address employee experience issues. If employees are feeling disconnected or under-appreciated, you can set up recognition programs to show your people that you are noticing the hard work they are putting in. There are a wide variety of options, ranging from informal peer-to-peer “kudos” programs, to “above and beyond” recognition that might include a small cash award or gift card, to full on incentive/bonus programs based on performance and other hard metrics.

You might not have considered, however, that recognition programs can break down silos. All recognition programs have one thing in common: sharing with the team all the great accomplishments (there’s no point in calling it recognition if you don’t tell anyone!). This can go a long way to educating people internally about what others do in the organization, which is one of the primary complaints we hear about silos (“I wish I knew what other departments really did!”).

Just the stories about how people went above and beyond with the effort will show everyone what it takes to deliver successful programs in areas the various departments might know much about. Then people start connecting the dots about where their expertise might fit in to that work, and suddenly you’re collaborating across silo lines.

This is probably not going to be the only thing you should add to what we call a “transparency architecture” that supports deeper collaboration, but it’s a great example of something that’s relatively easy to implement and has an impact that is broad.

So from a culture change perspective, it works like this:

  • Culture problem: various departments end up leaving money on the table because they can’t identify the best opportunities for collaboration.
  • Relevant culture pattern: Awkward collaboration (our culture values collaborative individuals more than it values collaborative groups)
  • Culture solution: implement recognition programs that make more work visible to more people
  • Results: more project success, increased efficiency, improved engagement.

Note: this post is part of a new series on “Culture Solutions,” where we identify specific culture change action items that real clients have used to solve real problems in their organization.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.