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January 28, 2014

A radical approach to break down the silos is born

By instinct and background I am an entrepreneur. It is in my nature to be involved in creative, flexible environments where decisions can be made and acted upon quickly. In my most recent role at the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), I have spent the the last two years travelling the world talking about more connected, cohesive business practice – what we call Integrated Thinking.

While on my travels, I find myself coming back, time and time again, to the words written by the poet John Donne: "no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main". We all know of businesses/organizations that, having grown organically or through acquisition, have struggled to break down the internal silos that exist between different operating units. There are many problems with silos, key among them is that they breed inefficiency and duplication of effort, make it hard to spot risks and almost impossible to have one coherent strategy. Read a selection of annual reports and you will quickly see my point: often they appear to be the story of four or five different businesses, rather than the chapters of a single book.

Persuading businesses to buy-in to the concept of Integrated Reporting is really dependent on them ‘getting’ this point about silos. As the World Economic Forum pointed out in its 2014 Global Risks report, the risks our economic and business environment face today are not isolated to one country or sector. The nature of globalization means that we are facing interconnected risks such as financial instability and climate change. At a business level this presents huge challenges – but one way of tackling them is to bring some coherence to the management of the organization so that it speaks with one voice and one strategy.

But what of the IIRC itself? I thought I had built a creative, flexible environment – and certainly one without silos! But looking back, I too was unable to avoid creating teams who worked only to their own objectives. For 2014, we have therefore decided to do something radical. We are starting the New Year with a new IIRC. We are breaking down the silos and empowering the 30 or so people who work for the IIRC all around the world, creating a ‘flat matrix’. It feels like the right thing to do. The people are in place, and I want them to take the reins and help me to lead us through this next exciting phase in our evolution.

To move us onto this new environment, in January we held a two day session, which brought together all members of our international secretariat to dissect and brainstorm how this ‘matrix’ might work. We discussed what we are going to do in 2014 and how we are going to do it.

What are the challenges and how will we overcome them? Will it work? Will this new culture and a flatter structure help us to achieve our strategic goals? I think it is only right to share this tale with you over the coming months, but you’ll have to come back next time to hear the next chapter. To be continued…

Paul’s previous blog post

Integrate: Doing Business in the 21st Century, IIRC welcomes major milestones

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