On the impossible role

In my new book “Making the Matrix Work”, I show how the matrix can actually increase employee engagement by producing richer, broader and more interesting jobs.

Research seems to suggest that up to a certain level, people prefer more complex rules. Of course this makes sense, the complexities to low jobs can be boring and mundane. I remember as a student spending weeks packing boxes into trucks. The only stimulation came from my colleagues, not from work.

As the complexity of the role increases, we increase our learning; we experience variety; and we develop skills to deal with a wider range of tasks. Work becomes more interesting.

As this complexity increases further, we start to feel challenged and stretched. As long as it is not too extreme, this can lead to even higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. We should mention, however, the level at which this kicks in is highly personal. Some people perceive risk and challenge at much lower level than others, some people have more capability to cope and thrive in a challenging environment, so it’s hard to make hard and fast rules about how much complexity is too much.

It also depends on the mindset and skill set. If people don’t feel comfortable working at higher levels of complexity and ambiguity, and/or if they don’t feel supported in doing this by their organizations, then stress and dissatisfaction will start to kick in.

We talk about more complex jobs being more engaging in our training workshops. People often say “but there must be a limit to that”  – and, of course, they are right. If we go too far with complexity then jobs become undoable.

During my corporate career, I took a role in manufacturing where my two predecessors had failed to be successful. I suspected that the job was too complex to be achieved and I took the job on the basis that I would evaluate it, and let the organization know if I thought it wasn’t achievable.

After six months. It was pretty clear that the job was just too broad. It was looking after an existing and highly profitable product with great opportunities for improvement, plus a new product based on entirely new technologies that needed a tremendous amount of problem-solving and attention but didn’t make any money. My view was separating this into two roles would be better for both areas.
Even though I had flagged this up before taking the role, it was still quite tough to go back to senior managers and say that I wasn’t able to do the role (and neither was anyone else). Luckily they trusted me and split the role and both I and my new colleague were able to succeed.

So if you role becomes too complex, you do need to escalate it to your managers. If you have two managers in matrix, you may be the only person who really understands the full scope and challenging your role. It doesn’t help you or the organization to continue to work on a job that can’t be done.

Have you ever had an undoable job? What did you do?

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