Matrix Management

Matrix Management can teach ‘Strictly Ballroom’ a thing or two.

Matrix MondayToday’s Matrix Monday post (#matrixmonday on Twitter) comes from our ‘twinkle toed trainer’ Janet Davis, reviewing Spreading Best Practice Production/Employment Arrangements in a Global Organization, by P.B. Beaumont and G. Martin, in Strategic Change, Volume 6.

Outside work, I am a keen dancer and dance teacher, travelling all over the world to enter dance competitions. And yet I dislike the ‘Strictly Ballroom’ type of television series (Ed: Dancing with the Stars in the US and many other countries).  Why? And what on earth does this have to do with Matrix Management?

It has nothing to do with the dancing itself, which I love. I simply loathe the programme format, whereby one couple is ejected from the series each week.

As a dance teacher myself, I often see beginner students who have never danced a step in their lives, shaking in their (usually unsuitable) shoes at the thought of making a fool of themselves, and convinced that they have the proverbial ‘two left feet’.

My first job is to convince them that the only reason they cannot dance (yet) is that they have not yet learned the mechanics. They wouldn’t expect to be able to speak a new language instantly, yet for some reason they expect to be able to dance, without ever having spent any time or attention on learning the required skills. Those who arrive with a background of some sporting experience often make rapid initial progress – though through complacency can fail to apply themselves or concentrate as hard as they might. Others may make slower progress, yet often turn out to be the far better dancers in the end. Which is why I always want all of the ‘Strictly’ competitors to have the chance to train for the duration of the entire series, and THEN to be judged not only on their final level, but on the relative amount of their improvement.

How does this relate to Matrix Management? As part of our regular research, I recently read an article by P.B. Beaumont and G. Martin on ‘Spreading Best Practice Production/Employment Arrangements in a Global Organization’ (Ed: Citation below).  Taking the company ABB as an example, and one plant in particular, the authors looked at the “one best way to manage” approach, and tried to find whether there is truth in the  criticism that this approach ignores historical, institutional and cultural differences between plants operating in different countries.

ABB introduced a benchmarking system, measuring all their plants on the same seven items, to foster internal competition and identify best practice processes. The plants had ‘identical’ production facilities, comparison was relatively straightforward, and the particular plant they looked at was relatively poor performing. They therefore expected it to have above-average incentive to adopt changes in order to improve its results.

However, three things meant that management time, resources and attention were focussed elsewhere:

  1. specific changes in the external market;
  2. a particular historic problem with high overtime costs;
  3. a less-than convinced management.

The expected changes didn’t come immediately. The authors conclude that the “cultural differences” were indeed what limited adoption of the benchmarking-based changes, especially if one includes the historical legacy of individual plants in the definition of “culture”.

However, the article notes that, following a change of management, and addressing both the external market requirements and the historic problem, changes did start to be seen, and some improvements – slowly – started to show.

This illustrates something that Global Integration regularly sees in matrix organizations: benchmarking is never perfect, as it is hard to compare “like with like” … but it can be useful in so far as it focusses management attention on the differences, and shows where to look for potential improvements.

The numbers themselves are much less important that the actions taken to address the underlying issues. As long as the reasons for differences are addressed – and not simply used as an excuse for relatively lower performance – changes and improvements will occur over time. Just don’t expect them to happen overnight!

As for dancing… well, keep going to the lessons, because the learning process itself is as much fun as the end result. And meanwhile, I’m starting a campaign to award the next Strictly prize to the ‘most improved’.

Janet Davis

Sept 2012



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