Matrix Management

We are all salespeople in a matrix

I was talking to a global client recently about developing matrix management skills in their global sales organization.

They described the challenges of engaging with their internal colleagues and across their own organizational silos, where they needed to exercise accountability without control and influence without authority and deal with complex organization dynamics.

Some of their leaders were finding this extremely difficult and were blaming the matrix structure for many of the challenges – If only they had the skills to make it work. Others, more familiar with the matrix from their previous companies saw it as a non-issue.

Sometimes you can start to solve the problem by reframing it. I asked whether the salespeople typically had authority over their customers or complete control over the customer resources. Of course, this is never the case in a sales role.

In sales we are always taking accountability for results that we can’t necessarily control- we have sales targets that depend on our ability to convince an external customer to spend their resources and time. We always exercise influence without authority and we routinely engage with complex networks of decision-makers within our potential clients in order to get things done.

It is frustrating for salespeople to find that it’s more complex and difficult to navigate the complexities of their own organization and get things done that is to influence their customers and we should be doing everything we can to make that process easier.

However, at a fundamental level the skills are the same. If you can exercise influence without authority in external organization, you can apply the same skills to getting things done internally. In fact it should be easier with a common high level goal and corporate culture and more time to build relationships and networks.

If you are comfortable with a sales environment where you take accountability for results when you don’t control the customer then what’s the difference taking accountability for internal results when you don’t control the resources. This is normal in large organizations even for very senior leaders.

This is a classic mindset issue; we often feel that we shouldn’t have to do this in our own organization but the reality is that this is how complex organizations work. Getting things done through formal control and hierarchy is outdated and ineffective. Even if you can force people to comply you probably won’t get good quality results.

Whether you are a salesperson or not, try addressing your matrix management challenges as if you were in sales. Take the time to understand how your organization works and build a network of influence with key decision-makers. Stop trying to get things done through formal power and develop your influencing skills. You will be more successful and become a better leader.

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