Matrix management specialists and generalists.

Eight trends in matrix management #2. Specialists and generalists.

As matrix management and matrix working connects people across the traditional functional boundaries, it increases the need for people to work across specialisms.

At the same time, as organizations become larger and more complex, there is a tendency for a growth in the need for specialist roles. A successful matrix organization needs both.

As the science in our products becomes ever deeper, knowledge in R&D is becoming increasingly specialized. People are dedicating their careers to relatively narrow niches and developing really deep expertise. We need this expertise to continue to develop products and really innovative approaches. However, we are also seeing the need to integrate across these different specializations – to combine perspectives and to connect seemingly unrelated discoveries and ideas. A lot of innovation comes from cross fertilising specialist fields.

R&D Director, Pharmaceuticals, USA.

In HR we have adopted the ‘Ulrich model’, which is a combination of business partners, specialists and service centres. The specialists include functional experts in areas like learning and development, compensation and benefits and organization development.

The service centres handle the transactional activities and routine questions such as employee questions on benefits, etc…

The business partners are effectively account managers, who manage the relationship between the particular part of the business they are dedicated to and these specialist functions.

HR VP, Industrials, Malaysia.

The Ulrich model – named after Dave Ulrich Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan – effectively creates an internal matrix management set up within the HR function enabling external users to have a single point of contact and using the business partners to manage the internal complexities of HR. This approach may also work for other specialist functions.

We try to have a mixture of career functional specialists and people spending a couple of years here on assignment. This gives us a great network around the organization and also means that a lot of people have a pretty good understanding of how our function works. We tend to get high potentials in from other functions who are developing general management careers, which also helps with the credibility of HR.

HR Director FMCG

The ability to attract, motivate and develop both specialists and generalists will be an important element of matrix management success. Both groups will need to develop strong matrix management skills, and the ability to both collaborate in matrix teams and be successful as individual contributors in this new, more complex environment.

This post is part of the Eight Trends in Matrix Management series.


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