Matrix Management

Navigating the matrix

We operate in a world of multiples, with multiple reporting lines to reflect the competing perspectives of functions, geography and business units. We are part of multiple teams to share resources and expertise. We need to take into account ever more complex groups of internal and external stakeholders to get things done.

In working in this world of multiples we often use the metaphor “navigating the matrix” to describe how we reach a goal. In navigating at sea, we have an end destination in mind, but we also need to take into account the wind, the current, the nature of our ship and crew and many other factors to chart a constantly evolving course as conditions change.

In most organizations, this feels like a more accurate description of the process of developing and delivering our goals than the traditional one of an annual goal setting exercise with a perfect view of the future.

Particularly in technology organizations, we may not have an accurate picture of what the future will look like in five years’ time, but we do have to start moving in the direction of our best guess and adapt as information improves.

Our internal processes can sometimes get in the way of achieving this. In my corporate career I was once criticised in my appraisal for not hitting a goal set in January when the situation changed, and the right thing was to do something else.

This isn’t an excuse for not having a target or direction in mind, we have to aim for something and get started. You wouldn’t try to sail from Europe to North America without knowing the direction.

However, the moment you set sail there will be other forces acting on you, the weather may drive you in one direction, currents may push you in another. In business, priorities may change, the economy may improve or worsen, and customers and competitors may take actions that change your end goal. We must be able to sense these and act accordingly to maintain the likelihood of reaching our destination.

It’s a lot more adaptive than traditional (and limited) SMART objective setting. In my view if its specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bounded, it’s probably pretty trivial and unlikely to lead to real competitive advantage.

We also need to pay attention to the motivation and capabilities of our crew which can have a huge impact on our speed and accuracy of navigation.

So as well as being clear about your end goals or direction, are you clear about the factors that may knock you off course or speed up your delivery? How will you navigate your journey?

Check out an integrated graphic on our matrix management learning path and training module contents.

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