Human resources (HR) people have some particular challenges in matrix management.

Like everyone else, they need to work within the matrix management structure – they suffer from divided loyalties, competing priorities etc.. but there are some distinct HR management challenges too.

The model of HR business partners and specialists has become very common. In this matrix management structure the specialist may just have functional reporting lines but the business partners are closely associated with and often report to a business unit or geography too (as well as the function).

Because of this the structure sets up matrix management tensions, both between HR and the groups they support, and within HR between the business partners and the specialists.

HR business partners, particularly those who support several management groups find that they get invited to everyone’s meetings and copied on everyone’s emails. If they don’t respond or fail to turn up for the (largely irrelevant) management meetings of their client groups this can be seen as a lack of loyalty.

The needs of the local client group are nearly always urgent requirements from people the HR business partners have a good relationship with (and who have an input to their appraisals)

The longer term HR functional developments are often important but usually less urgent. In addition many of the functional projects they are asked to support are not visible to line managers or may not be valued by them relative to their short term needs.

In our research, HR was the function we found had the strongest preference for loyalty to the local (as distinct from the centre) in matrix management. Perhaps this is a function of the HR people’s (hopefully) close association with and responsibility for their local colleagues.

The impact of matrix management is often felt most keenly by people in the central functions but maybe HR has it worse than some other functions. For functions like Finance, with a long tradition of functional and professional independenc,e this may be easier to manage. Every line manager has an opinion on HR (I know – I have been both a line manager and a HR person)

Its critical that HR people learn strong matrix management skills for themselves, as well as being able to sponsor and promote the development of these skills in their organizations.

Check out our podcast managing complexity in HR

What is your experience of HR in a matrix management structure?

About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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