As companies grow, they change. It seems obvious, but it’s impossible for any business to stay in that ‘start up’ phase forever. As a company matures, its very nature changes, and often this can cause company pillarization. Originally a cultural and religious concept – based on the Dutch word ‘verzuiling’ – pillarization talks about systematic segregation and alienation of elements of society.
In history, this is best illustrated by the separation between Catholic and Protestant communities in parts of Western Europe after the reformation. Protestant families would only buy from Protestant grocers, while Catholics would only go to Catholic vendors. Society was split across its religious lines in such a way that that was as little interaction as possible between the two elements even though those elements were part of the same, larger community.
We start to see company pillarization in more mature companies. These businesses have developed strategies and policies in their start-up phase, or they have set down strategies and plans afterward. The result is that many of these businesses rely on strategies designed years earlier, based on scenarios and circumstances of that time. One of the problems that can arise from this is company pillarization.
Company Pillarization: The 3 Big Areas of Concern
One of the first things to break down in a company pillarization scenario. Pillarization creates a disconnect between departments, allowing them to grow distant and focus only on their own tasks. As a result, inter-company, cross-departmental communication is difficult and occasionally non-existent.
A direct result of the breakdowns in communication, keeping track of responsibilities becomes difficult. When company pillarization occurs, departments – and their individual team members – become entrenched in only their own tasks. Even as disconnection begins to occur in communications, a disconnection happens between the tasks and the bigger picture. That leads to a disinterest in taking responsibility or ownership over cross-departmental projects.
When a department is disconnected from the company as a whole, the members of that department suffer from the same disassociation. People get drawn in, choosing ‘sides’ with their own department rather than with the company as a whole. This, combined with the breakdown in communications and growing sense of lack of responsibility leads to a downturn in employee engagement. Employees no longer feel connected with anything but their work, or, at best, their department and this impacts the company as a whole.
Overcoming Company Pillarization
Overcoming divisions in any organization can be difficult. Particularly if these divisions have grown subtly over time. The first step is always to recognize that there is a problem. This is something that companies can find difficult to admit; it may be construed as a failure in the eyes of stakeholders, but without this admission there can be no resolution.
In the end what it all comes down to is the disconnection between people, departments and the company as a whole. This can be the result of a number of things such as the company has outgrown its management, the company’s culture isn’t moving with the direction of its employees (in terms of socialisation opportunities), and possibly just the general style of work – perhaps the products that the company is now creating aren’t as interesting as they were before. The disconnection between the company and its individuals is the end result of all these issues.
In order to overcome company pillarization, then, companies have to reconnect with their employees and vice versa. It’s a two-way street.
One of the factors that can help address the issue of communication, for starters, is to take a look at the physical distances between departments. If they are housed on different floors or even different buildings, then face-to-face communication becomes less likely. While not always possible, bringing departments closer together has the potential to help resolve this issue.
Other tried and true ideas is to sit down and take a serious look at current HR Policies: do they reflect the current needs of employees or have things changed? If the company no longer has the best interests of its employees at heart then this is a good place to start looking. Similarly, it’s a good chance to give employees opportunities the chance to express themselves. This will generate information to help bridge the gaps on an individual level and will hopefully improve on issues of engagement and responsibility.
Onwards and Upwards
Many people compare businesses to sharks: when they’re not moving forward they’re sinking. This may not apply to every business on the face of the planet, but it’s often used as a generalization. It applies here too: if a business isn’t addressing issues that are causing breakdowns in responsibility, engagement and communication then what’s the point? It’s fair to say that while not all companies can be compared with sharks, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue any company not addressing its internal issues is heading for the bottom of the ocean.