After we posted a report on “The Death of The Matrix”, debunking the myth that the matrix is dead, we shared it on the LinkedIn Matrix Management Group, where an excellent point was made:

Any concept, theory which is not clearly understood or applied to bring fruitful results will automatically fane away [sic]. Though organisational and behaviour studies will remain the key challenge for any multinational, I don’t believe it is an easy task to break the mind-set of an old employee and expect him/ her to give away his/ her authority and control.

We felt that this merited a fuller response than a LinkedIn box. Tim Mitchell, Global Integration’s VP, Americas,  takes it from here:

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This is a great point and one that we encounter all the time. The vast majority of our participants are experienced and good at what they do – otherwise, they wouldn’t be in our sessions. It’s a big challenge to ask successful people to look critically at what they currently do and get them to ask the question ‘How can I do it better?’ The good news is that, if you approach it in the right way, they often manage to make the shift.

The starting point is that people need to see change as conveying benefits to them, and also to see it as a series of incremental steps rather than an overnight alteration in their style (which can be hard for the individual and confusing for their colleagues). We often use the analogy that I was once given by a yoga instructor: “We’re here to strengthen muscle, not create it!”

Some ideas include:
  •  Companies that drive effective change have clearly defined values that they not only identify, but also reward – for example in their performance systems;
  •  Individuals should have input into their goals: for example, ask them “‘what do you want to achieve?”  – and then make sure that there’s a clear correlation between those objectives and the way they are rewarded (not just in monetary terms but in terms of recognition etc);
  •  Focus on small steps – start with something simple;
  •  Make sure that senior leaders model the behaviours they want to see in others;
  •  Provide people with the tools to drive those behaviours (which is the focus of our skills training), rather than just saying they’re important .

Finally, there are individuals who simply don’t want to change. You will always encounter them. From our perspective, ‘What you ‘do’ is what you do’. What we mean by that is that what you are doing may work for you, but does it fit company goals or the position that the individual is being asked to fill? If you are a Regional Manager who doesn’t want to share resources or see beyond their own personal  goals, then that may be a problem for the company.

We see this on a regular basis, because most companies promote people for doing their last job well. The reality is that the skills required to be an effective matrix manager are often different from those required to be an effective project manager. You can provide tools to help people deal with this, but if they persist in behaviours that don’t correlate with their new position, then a decision needs to be made. Matrix management doesn’t suit everyone.

Consequently,  most companies report losing a significant portion of their middle management when they move into a matrix environment. You can reduce that with skills training, but ultimately some people just don’t see the benefit. Consequently, part of our approach would be to suggest a heavy dose of realism. Don’t over invest in matrix management skills training for those who fall into this category. Instead, give them a role in which they can contribute their skills or expertise.

About the author:

Tim Mitchell Results are always front of mind for Global Integration Vice President, Tim Mitchell. His determination to make a real difference through training interventions is tangible, and his influence shows in Global integration's very practical and genuinely useful training and consultancy approach. Company profile: Tim Mitchell.

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