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Be careful not to disappear up your own matrix ambiguity. As organisations grow, as yours has done, they become more complex – I believe a major part of the challenge for leaders is continually to realign their followers so that they know clearly what the current focus is, can simplify as far as possible their priorities, and reduce the number of them, so that ambiguity is minimised for them. Followers like to know where they stand, they like clarity in what their key result areas are, and how they will be judged and rewarded. They like a firm framework and a clear chain of command. And so it was in the garden before the fall.

However, unfortunately postlapserial management is an entirely different beast. Here each senior leader has to grow the success of their particular product or specialism on the one hand, and at the same time to collaborate with different departments and different bosses to produce global client sales, or a broad field of new research. Outstanding people are in short supply, so there will be additional demands made of them for Corporate Governance, Risk Management, New Business Authorization, and Strategic Planning and so on. We are far away from simple Eden, in the woods of complex matrix management – most organisations fail at this – why?

Harry, we need to talk through the reasons carefully, relate them to your organisation and decide how to act. Here are some of the main ones:

Driven people are sensitive

Most of the best leaders are driven to succeed – that is why they put so much effort, go the extra mile. For the moment, don’t worry about the rights and wrongs of that, accept it as a fact. What are the implications? They will resent any indication that they are being ignored, by passed, and demoted – so communications becomes an absolute.

It’s hard to break up homes

People will have created a new psychological “home” for themselves in their office, their administrative support, their regular sequence of meetings, their group of trusties – so communications about change must be sensitive and empathetic.

Uncertainty is threatening

They will have built certainties into their framework; people and clients they can rely on, ways of doing things, all manner of supporting relationships, and above all, a keen eye for the results they will deliver on which their future acclaim depends – so the new concepts need to reflect and deal with these certainties – more communicating.

The systems must change too

Most information systems grow like Topsy and become like elephants – unwieldy, large and powerful, they are also increasingly obvious and focused on reporting “the way we are used to doing things here”. If you are going to change structures, make them more responsive, make them more complex, then you will have to change the information systems also. In particular, appraisals, rewards, PR, it’s all about redefining the pecking order. Information is communication. You are moving from “the way we’ve done things here” to “the way we should be doing things in the future”.

These are some of the reasons for matrix failure. What are the actions that characterise success? What are the common features? This is what I have found.

  1. All managers profoundly understand and endorse the corporate strategy, what that strategy means in terms of new modes of management, and the need for two or more different strategic themes at one and the same time. There is a total buy in. Those who don’t, leave.
  2. We can not spend too much time sharing the vision, then the steps, then the managerial implications. Communications is everything – and the key note is not what we want, but how can they help, how can they improve our thinking,  what the implications are for them and how we can resolve these. (see my note on delegation)
  3. Get the existing basics right first – complex new structures don’t work well on rotten foundations. Individual departments and divisions that have a high degree of functional excellence, strength and so potential for confidence – units that are strong in their own right are more likely to have managers comfortable with wearing multiple hats.
  4. Create a corporate mutual self confidence. Managers must have confidence in the quality of their peers if they are going to be willing to collaborate and refocus on both Corporate and Personal success.
  5. Information systems must match and reinforce the new order. They must for example be able to track performance, and produce clear and clean data whether at the unit, product, geographical or project level.
  6. Reward systems, including internal and external PR, must reflect the new priorities.
  7. The top leadership will need continually to endorse and foster a culture that rewards executives who are comfortable with many layered and corporate ambiguity
  8. Communicating, explaining, and listening remains the prime function of the leadership long after the switch. They have set the new strategic aim, they have revised this to take on board the language, culture and feedback of their executive, and they are now focused more than anything else on helping to make it work and continuing to do so.

Let’s talk.