Does your matrix structure need a “Matrix Guardian?” A “Matrix Guardian,” also known as a “Matrix Manager,” is an individual whose job it is to see to it that the matrix structure is functioning effectively and efficiently, and that the principles of matrix management are being applied correctly and fairly. The Matrix Guardian ensures that “good hygiene” is being practiced throughout the matrix structure.
Some of the key functions of the Matrix Guardian are to:
- Serve as a technical resource to staff, managers, and executives on matrix management practices and issues
- Conduct periodic inspections to ensure that key matrix success factors such as role clarity, process clarity, are in a state of continuous improvement
- Function as an ombudsman or arbiter in working through a variety of emerging issues such as chronic staff overwork/underwork or boundary disputes, for example
- Provide a long-range strategic perspective on the structure and assist in its evolution over time
Consider designating a Matrix Guardian under these circumstances:
- During matrix management’s early implementation or revitalization
- When there are challenges of intense internal politics or significant resource skirmishes
- When there are persistent concerns related to trust and fairness
- When you want to accelerate and fortify institutionalization of matrix management in a larger organization
How do you staff the Matrix Guardian position successfully? Ideally, the position should be staffed by someone who is thoroughly trained and experienced in matrix management and who is regarded as fair and approachable. The Matrix Guardian should be both mature and discreet—a person with whom people at all levels can converse candidly without fear of hearing their words echoing in the hallway or being communicated to “the boss” when confidential or low-profile problem-solving was the primary objective of the conversation.
One of my first matrix management consulting assignments was that of rehabilitating and re-strengthening a matrix manager in whom R&D personnel had lost trust. Up until the turning point when trust soured, the individual had been very effective in playing the role of Matrix Guardian. The rehabilitation project was a success. This assignment reinforced in my mind the valuable role that a Matrix Guardian can play—when the role is played effectively and when trust is building rather than eroding.
For help with your matrix, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703/836-8383.
Designing a matrix management structure is not a “one size fits all” proposition. The key issues that emerge when moving to a matrix structure surround a thirst for clarity at every level of the organization. Employees want to know: “What am I supposed to do differently?”; “How does an arrangement where I report to more than one boss actually work?” Leadership wants to know what it can do to usher the new structure into place – with minimal resistance and maximum speed and success. There are roles, rules and tools that make a matrix structure work successfully. These need to be designed systematically and with all due diligence if matrix management success is to be achieved.
Strategic Futures helps clients in the formative stages of matrix management by framing the 18 key decisions that need to be made, emphatically steering the client away from known perils – towards successful, proven practices.
Here’s the thing: These 18 formative decisions are largely invisible to organizations setting out on the matrix management journey. The good news is that key decisions are known to Strategic Futures because of our work with dozens and dozens of clients in a full spectrum of industries over many years. Explicit and conscious decision-making concerning these key issues saves our clients time, money, and frustration in very significant ways. No amount of recasting matrix management as “the new matrix” or “the blended matrix” or other such new-and-improved spins will exempt you from making these critical decisions.
There’s more good news: Decision outputs can then be imported into future briefings and training for staff that builds employee understanding and confidence in accomplishing great things using an agile matrix structure that makes the highest-and-best use of all available talent. You don’t want to be in a position of telling management and staff that “we’ll get back to you on that,” or “we hadn’t thought about that, we’ll have to think about this.”
No one has all the answers all of the time, but a failure to think ahead should be an episodic event, rather than a chronic condition.
That’s where we come in.
They tell me that a business blogger should offer a personal observation from time to time as a way of introducing oneself and providing a more complete picture of the person who is delivering professional services. So let’s take a crack at it and springboard from today’s activities. One of the things that management consultants have to do is keep their Statement of Corporate Qualifications current. That’s because you are looking for a new job every day. I have been looking for a new job every day for the past quarter century! Anyway, this task involves listing clients and reference contacts, describing assignments and the like. When you are writing a major proposal, it’s only natural that prospects want to know where you have done work before and how they can contact your references to assess client satisfaction with completed projects. I confess that I don’t keep the Statement as current as I should. What with client work involving extensive travel, sometimes international, it gets hard to squeeze in such a task. However, periodically I do get it done and I make sure that every assignment gets posted (except for those governed by Non-Disclosure Agreements).
I was updating the Corporate Qualifications the other day and decided to count the number of clients for which I had done work related to matrix management. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the January 2010 cumulative total is 50; just for those related to matrix management! A handful of these were here in the Washington DC area, but the vast bulk involved travel.
I recall fondly my first matrix management client. It was Boehringer Mannheim Pharmaceuticals–now Boehringer Ingleheim. This was some two decades ago. The R&D section had a facility up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Suburban Maryland had an up-and-coming pharma and biotech corridor that’s now pretty well established. The Director of R&D, now retired, was an MD and a former executive at the FDA. As I described my approach to the assignment – it was a matrix organization “tune-up” project for an existing matrix structure, I saw his eyes light up. He said to me, “As a scientist, I must admit that I am both surprised and delighted…you have a structured, systematic approach to all of this.; I feel better already.”
It was through that first assignment that I learned how much I enjoy working with scientific and technical people and intelligent and engaged people, in general. Their personalities tend to be pleasing, or, at minimum, highly interesting. They insist on logical, step-by-step approaches. Boehringer was a great environment in which to “cut my teeth.” Boehringer was the first of many pharma clients. The Director of R&D and later, the COO for the U.S., provided me with many interesting challenges. They did so even though I had a steep learning curve about the industry. Then, as time went by, new industries presented themselves. There was more for me to learn and yet other executives gave me the benefit of the doubt that, indeed, I could learn about the contours of their industry and then apply my templates and knowledge to assist them. Through all of this, I began to see transcendent dynamics which apply to many, if not all industries. I also began to connect the dots and become confident that I could work a particular industry, either because I had worked in that industry before or because it was a “neighbor” that shared common core characteristics with an industry in which I had worked previously.
I am fortunate in having so many smart clients. I have learned something from each and every one of them and that has, in turn, helped me work more effectively with the next client. Along the way, I have made many friends. Sometimes the travel gets a bit much but, all in all, the level of satisfaction involved in helping people get the most out of our consulting and training services along with the opportunity to work with great people and make friends along the way – balances everything out. The job also provides a great deal of variety: There is no boredom. I am grateful for my clients – past, present, and future. I just have to remember to write it all down.