Translating your product for the global market? Beware the silo effect…

Those “silos” that often pop up in large organizations – where departments fail to share information, tools and priorities – can prove especially vexing when a product’s global success depends on translating information into other languages…

Because of silos, the same information might be translated separately by every department, costing the company thousands in extra (and unnecessary) translation costs. A product’s packaging claim could conflict with material the marketing department is sending out. Or trouble could begin brewing over translations that weren’t vetted by the legal department and inadvertently violate another country’s laws.

“Silos can land a project in marshy ground and create major, costly delays,” says Ian A. Henderson, author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations and co-founder with his wife, Francoise, of Rubric, a global language-service provider.

No one told the marketing department…

Here’s just one real-world example the Hendersons encountered: They were hired by a U.S. company that planned a European rollout of a new personal hygiene product. When Francoise Henderson began working on the translations, she noticed the ingredients list planned for advertisements differed from the labels on the bottles. It turned out the formula had been changed because some ingredients were banned in Europe.

“No one told the marketing department, though,” Francoise Henderson says. “Translation is about communication, and yet communications breakdown happen way too frequently in the world of translation when someone’s not overseeing the big picture and making sure the silo effect isn’t undermining the larger effort.”

Why are silos so common and what can be done to address the problems they create? The Hendersons provide these observations:

Company culture

On occasion, it is company policy or company culture that leads to the emergence of silos. For example, Francoise Henderson says, company policies may be in place to avoid breaking antitrust laws, or keeping up walls might help prevent conflicts of interest. “Company culture and policies can be the hardest thing to change,” she says. “Encouraging communication is a good start.”

Empire building

While sometimes silos just happen in the natural course of things, in some larger corporations, the building of silos is deliberate. “People might harbor concerns that a more streamlined process will make their own jobs obsolete,” Ian Henderson says. This could result, for example, in a marketing team in Belgium refusing to communicate with the marketing team in Japan. One way companies overcome this problem, he says, is to have a central communications hub that all information flows through.

Basic confusion

A company may have up to five separate sources of content, such as marketing, communications, technical, legal and packaging. “Each of these areas may have no sense of where their work intersects with the others, and how there may be redundancies in translations and beyond,” Ian Henderson says. “This can lead to confusion and even unnecessary work through duplication.” Companies should make sure each department has an understanding of what other departments do, and that they regularly interact with each other, he says.

“Silos are not a new problem, and they are not going to disappear overnight,” Ian Henderson says. “But when they are approached with foresight and experience, they can be dealt with and eventually dismantled.”

www.rubric.com

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