In a matrix management environment individuals may have more than one boss, a complex network of stakeholders and be part of several virtual teams. As a result they may be the only individual who has a complete view of their own role. Each of the other parties may only see part of the goals and workload that the individual needs to deliver.
As a result it is essential that individuals in a matrix are much more active in owning their own role and creating clarity around their goals. If they wait for one of their bosses to do this for them they will probably only get partial clarity.
If individuals don’t take active ownership they may fall into a pattern of “learned helplessness” where they wait in vain for others to solve their problems for them. This is what we call becoming a “matrix victim” rather than a matrix manager.
This also means that to some extent an individual further down the matrix may have a more complex job than their boss. If their boss sits at the top of the matrix they may be able to continue to think in a quite linear way about just the function, geography or business unit they lead.
At the next level down the individual will have competing goals from more than one of these. The marketing manager may have goals that relate to the region, the marketing function and the business unit part of. Even if these goals are reasonably well aligned, they will still compete for their time and attention.
Balancing these competing goals may arguably require a higher level of broad business understanding and management skill than is required to head up a single function or other business entity.
In job evaluation terms should middle managers be paid more than senior leaders for managing this increased complexity?
We often say that “a matrix is led from the middle” because this is where the day-to-day dilemmas and trade-offs are managed that determine what strategy is actually implemented in practice. It was always the case that middle managers focused on turning strategy into execution – while senior leaders focus on what, middle managers focus on how – and the how in a matrix has many more stakeholders and opinions to resolve.
We need to make sure we equip our matrix middle with the business knowledge, skills, attitude and empowerment needed to succeed in this complex environment.