Matrix Management

Is alignment possible in a complex company?

When we work with training participants in matrix and other complex organizations they consistently ask for better alignment of their goals. But in in a complex multidimensional world is it even possible to be fully aligned?

Clearly at the highest level it is desirable to have a clear strategy and a common focus. But even at this level it can be challenging; do we focus on the existing business or respond to digital disruption by taking a new direction, what is the balance of the global and the local – the answer to these strategic dilemmas is often “both”. The real skill is in managing the dynamic tension between competing demands for our time, resources and attention – and in this reality it’s hard to be clear once and for all, or even for 12 months.

At the next level down we regularly see initiative overload in large organisations. Everyone has good ideas and is trying to drive change and excellence in their own areas of focus. This can mean initiatives are created at a group level, by the functions, regions, business units, countries and teams. When these come down to an individual or local team this can create an overload of competing goals.

Several of our clients have introduced senior prioritisation groups to try to align at this level and prevent unsustainable levels of change in the business.

In middle management most people today have some combination of multiple reporting lines, work on multiple teams and/or need to engage with multiple stakeholders. In this reality competing goals and constant dynamic alignment and prioritisation are the norm.

The answer from the top seems to be in pursuing “good enough clarity” at the level of strategy and initiatives and communicating the reality of competing demands and areas that need to be managed more dynamically.

The answer in the middle is to build the knowledge, skills and empowerment for middle managers to manage the daily trade offs they face and constantly realign as a normal part of their roles.

Incentives, objectives, budgets and metrics need to reflect, allow and encourage trade offs and optimisation across the business, in many cases today these are still focused on optimising the traditional silos and can prevent broader alignment and joined up thinking.

The alternative is for us to expect senior leaders to align on every eventuality from the top down in advance and this leads to massive bottlenecks at the top, disempowered middle managers and slow response times.

Part of this is also about our mindset as middle managers. It was always the job of middle management to mange these trade offs and to prioritise and stay aligned in a changing environment. As the business environment becomes more complex we need to develop the skills to do this more quickly and with a better grasp of our business dynamics.

If you need to develop these skills for your people, why not get in touch.

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