John G. Rice, member of Asia Global Institute's Advisory Board, describes his company's efforts to build an internal marketplace of ideas and solutions.
The GE that I work for now is not the same company as the one I joined in 1978, with stand-alone businesses in a holding company. Today, we operate on the premise that our whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the dynamic networking and exchange of ideas and solutions across GE is a performance differentiator for each business. Close to 70 percent of our business now takes place outside the United States, so this networking exchange needs to reach far and wide.
The problem, of course, is that as businesses grow larger and scale up internationally, more silos start to pop up. It's not always easy for employees to stay connected and share ideas that drive innovation and add new value, or to view sharing and multiple teaming as a competitive advantage. That has been GE's challenge: how to connect more than 300,000 people, operating in over 180 countries, in a dynamic and practical way without adding more process and bureaucracy that slows them down. Without a radical shift in everyday working behavior-in employees' relationships with the company and with one another-silos will remain, and the sort of cross-industry and horizontal collaboration that companies like GE need to foster for growth is not going to happen.
We don't have the perfect answer, but we are investing in digital tools, training, and "exchange" platforms to facilitate an internal marketplace that enables individuals and businesses to contribute or tap into ideas, inventions, and practices. When our approach works, it has helped us speed up development times, expand globally at a faster pace, scale innovation across industries, improve productivity, and accelerate problem solving. When it does not work, we have a Game of Thrones scenario-silos and fiefdoms. It is metrics that aren't reconciled or leaders that have not engaged the right way.
This piece first appeared in the McKinsey Quarterly in April, 2017.The views expressed in the reports featured are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Asia Global Institute's editorial policy.