By pausing and investigating the underpinnings of success, both process and human, senior leadership can distribute credit in a way that fortifies the matrix structure by creating conditions favorable to teamwork—past, present, and future.
The matrix organization is comprised of multiple cross-functional teams. The team is the basic building block of the structure. At any given point in time, the behavior of all personnel will either fortify or erode the matrix structure. At the highest level of matrix functioning, all personnel will become appropriately circumspect about whether their behavior is fortifying or eroding the matrix.
Absolutely essential to matrix functioning is an adequate degree of circumspection at the most senior levels of the organization. All members of an organization like to be the one to deliver good news to senior leadership. However, the first “messenger” to trumpet success to a top-level boss may or may not have been instrumental in achieving a given success. Sharp elbows might be indicative of a sharp mind and Herculean effort; sometimes this is the case but sometimes it is not.
When good news is reported to a senior leader, this individual should immediately pause and ask two questions namely, “To what can we attribute our success?” and “To whom can we attribute our success?”
In answer to the first question, the challenge is to identify those cross-functional synergies that were pivotal in achieving a breakthrough.
In answer to the second question, the challenge is to ensure that credit for the success is distributed to and shared among the members of the team which delivered it. The Horizontal Leader and the participating Vertical Leaders are likely to have insights as to any creative, or otherwise disproportional or heroic contributions that should be singled out for special commendation. Most frequently, a small amount of digging will reveal any special achievements that warrant special notice. The heroic contributors are often too busy to sound their own horn. Following this analogy, don’t assume that a vehicle is moving just because it has honked its horn. In addition, it can also be argued that the efforts of each and every team member were required to create an incubator in which synergistic, cross-functional success could be attained. In this sense, senior leadership should distribute both generic as well as particular credit, should particular credit be warranted.
Interdependency is at the root of creative synergy. When it comes to the behavior of senior leadership, little things can and do mean a lot. When senior leadership ensures that both team and individual efforts are recognized and rewarded, the matrix structure is fortified in ways that will reinforce future synergy. The cumulative effects of senior leadership impact the significant benefits which an ever-strengthening matrix culture can deliver.
Remember the operational definition of “culture:” Culture is what employees do when the boss isn’t looking. To the extent that employees perceive and understand that effective teamwork is what will be inspected and rewarded by senior leadership without fail, their behavior will tilt increasingly in the direction of cooperative interdependency. In this way the promised benefits of matrix management can be delivered through multiple cross-functional teams pursuing shared objectives using shared resources.
The Director of the 2010 Census recently remarked in the Washington Post that he is concerned about the imminent brain drain in the US Bureau of the Census owing to projected retirements. He pondered how this development could impact adversely a 2010 census which promises to be more than a little controversial at best. His solution? The older employees should take 15 minutes to sit down and have coffee with the younger ones to “transfer knowledge.” It begins to make you wonder about the level of compensation afforded to Census executives and managers if the knowledge can be transferred successfully over a cup of coffee, be it tall or grande. Sad. Starbucks will like this “strategy,” but the thoughtful citizen will not.
The passing of the mantle of leadership in American government and business is nigh. Baby Boomers have begun leaving the scene in one way or another but the question is: Are they ensuring that the transfer of knowledge and expertise will be smooth and complete? Too often, it’s being left to “someone else”—the next person “on watch” as it were.
The problem is that most of the time, the next person on watch is the very person who needs to be mentored for the job! Look at public utilities, such as water and wastewater districts and you will usually find the same predicament. The need for making a smooth transition is ubiquitous, yet the level of systematic and concentrated effort is usually paltry. Indeed, if Y2K proved to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the passing of the baton to a new generation has the potential to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is a 14,000-employee federal agency that performs a vital function—it pays our military heroes, our defense contractors, along with the President and a few other notables. A few years back, then-DFAS Director, Thomas Bloom, was concerned about ensuring uninterrupted performance as the mantle of leadership is passed from one generation to another. Indeed, the leadership demographics were cause for pause. The top leadership team of 20 executives was at or quickly nearing retirement age. Not remarkable on the face of it. However, the average age of the next lower echelon was actually older than the top leadership team! Go down yet another level and the employees were still no younger, on average. This is the condition at many organizations, particularly public organizations where no less than 50% of the employees are retirement-eligible as this is written.
DFAS started working on this challenge in 2001. Tom Bloom certainly wasn’t content with the idea that a couple cups of coffee would do the trick. The agency instituted a mentoring program. Strategic Futures Consulting Group has now trained more than 2500 of the agency’s employees in how to do quality mentoring. Creating an embedded mentoring culture in a large organization takes time—probably a decade, give or take. When it comes to renewing organizations by preparing the workforce adequately, leaving things to chance or leaving things to the next leader won’t do.
The strategic future is now: Organizations should ensure their perpetuity while those who can transfer productive knowledge are still on the payroll, not after they have already departed.
Should we say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” even when our lying eyes promise us that it is fixin’ to be broke? Today is the time to prepare for tomorrow.