Deconstructing silos in your enterprise service management towers of Babel

The most important goal is that all your employees understand each other.

Enterprise service management is already a reality in many organizations and will be even more so in the future. But if that’s true, why does it feel like a very ancient story indeed: building the tower of Babel?

Breaking down silos in organizations by working together with different service departments has a lot of benefits. Most of all, enterprise service management helps you improve your customer experience while increasing efficiency at the same time. Sounds great, but is it worth the hassle it causes when departments don’t see eye to eye?

A very common hurdle in improving the collaboration between departments is that they don’t speak the same language. Facilities and IT don’t mean the same thing when they talk about an incident, and HR and finance use different terminology altogether, which leads to misunderstandings. For instance, when IT departments talk about an incident there is no stress related to it, but in a facilities context an “incident” most likely means the building is on fire or something of that severity, not to mention what an incident implies in an HR context.

The thing is, though, you don’t need to speak exactly the same language across departments to make enterprise service management work. A very good place to start is a clear understanding of how other departments work and communicate.

Babel in Brussels

Take Belgium as an example, the country where I grew up and have spent quite a few years of my career. The country has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. In Brussels, the capital of Belgium, speakers of these different languages live side-by-side and meet in government and businesses alike. The languages aren’t very similar, and many people find it difficult to express themselves in a language that isn’t their own.

But listening to and understanding a foreign language is much easier than speaking it. Here’s the Belgian solution to the language barrier: In meetings, each person speaks their own language, so everybody can have their say without the fear of using the wrong words or phrases. Misunderstandings may still occur, but even re-phrasing your point of view in simpler terms is easier in your own language than in somebody else’s. It takes some getting used to but it works surprisingly well.

Speech confusion in service management

The Belgian model to overcome their language barrier sounds great, but how does it translate to service management?

If you work together with multiple service departments, like IT, facilities and HR, you’re bound to run into your own small-scale (or even large-scale) language barriers. Different departments will use different words when they mean the same thing or use the same words when they actually mean different things. It’s tempting to start creating a whole new framework to get everybody on the same page, but is that really the most efficient way to improve communication?

Just like in Belgian meetings, the most important goal is that all your employees understand each other. At first glance, it seems like that means you need to speak the same language across the board. But what if everybody is simply aware of the differences and keeps talking the way they normally would? It takes a long time to create, implement and learn a new framework for terminology, so wouldn’t it be great if you could skip that step?

Instead of aligning service departments’ language, let colleagues get to know each other and see each other’s work, so they know what the other side is talking about. Once employees have sufficient knowledge of other departments to understand the differences, they can see their communication in the right context. Plus, since everybody keeps communicating the way they’re used to, your team members won’t have to struggle to get their point across in a meeting, phone call or email.

A great way to achieve better communication is to have job shadowing days, where people from IT, for instance, tag along with the facilities team for a couple of hours or a full day. Want a more coordinated program? Organize a knowledge sharing day, where the departments each give a presentation about what they are working on. If you’d rather take an informal approach, simply having people from different departments sit together is also a great start.

Communicating with customers

So, will you never have to change the way your service departments communicate from now on? Well, there is one context in which consistent language is crucial: communication with your customers. If you work together with various departments at the back-end, you may share a service desk or self-service portal where your customers go with their questions and requests. Perhaps you even maintain a knowledge base where customers can quickly find the answers they’re looking for. You want to keep communication with the customer clear and consistent, even if service departments each have their own jargon. How? Here’s a rule of thumb: Avoid jargon as much as you can. Describe your services as plainly as possible and don’t bother customers with the intricacies of how you handle requests at the back-end.

And don’t forget to involve your service desk if you’re going to develop a tone-of-voice for customer communication. Service desk employees talk to customers every day; they’ll know your customers will understand and what confuses them when they submit requests.

So, if enterprise service management feels like building the tower of Babel, just remember how Belgians have made that tower work in Brussels. Figure out how the other side works, and let the other side know how you work as well. Then you’re breaking down silos instead of building a tower.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Related:
SUBSCRIBE! Get the best of CIO delivered to your email inbox.