If you are sitting at work reading this with your hard-line, direct-report manager sitting across the room from you and your soft-dotted-line, functional area manager behind you, while on the phone to one of your three loose-dotted-line country heads, then the matrix has you. This does not mean you are about to receive a call from a mystical prophet named Morpheus, nor does it mean that you soon be dating Keanu Reeves or Carrie Anne Moss. It just means that you are existing within a matrix organization.
This matrix organization structure was very popular in the ’80s with the likes of IBM and Xerox, and it was based on the idea that employees should have at least two bosses — say, one from a functional area and one from an organizational area, such as a country, product group, etc. As a recruiting manager, you might report to the head of HR and also have a soft line or hard dotted line to the head of the functional area you primarily recruit for. It’s not a structure that’s needed in small companies: matrices are generally reserved for large, multinational, multi-site, highly diversified businesses. The matrix structure seemed to be the only way to make sense of what was going on in a complicated business system.
Over recent years, we’ve not heard much about matrix organizations. They’ve gone out of fashion, like Don Johnson’s “Miami Vice” suits — but the matrix probably still has you. The rumors of the death of the matrix organization are greatly exaggerated. While no one would dare be caught uttering the word “matrix,” this article by Ray Hension from the Center for Organizational Design suggests that the matrix has evolved into more complex forms of organizing, such as networks, like those seen at Cisco. It may go by a different name, but the matrix structure is still very much alive and kicking. Even though it is not called “the matrix,” if you are in large, complicated organization, you are probably still in the matrix.
As you may or may know not, matrix organizations present unique challenges to those within them and require specific skills to navigate them successfully. As a hiring manager or a recruiter hiring into a matrix organization, you’ll need to prioritize a very specific set of candidate skills if you are to hire an effective matrix performer and employee.
What skills are those?
Well, we already know from research that just 11 percent of hew hires fail due to technical skills, and the rest fail because of some kind of interpersonal issue. Interpersonal skills are key to success in any organization, but especially vital in a matrix organization. The multiple reporting lines often lead to confusion, stress, conflict, turf wars, low accountability and responsibility, and goals without power or authority, suggests this HBR article, aptly titled “Surviving the Matrix.” This places an extraordinary emphasis on collaborative skills in matrix organizations, such as influence without hierarchical power, negotiation, networking, conflict resolution, persuasion, consensus building, constructing alliance, horse trading, etc., etc.
If you are hiring into a matrix organization, it’s vital that you prioritize these matrix-specific skills in your candidates to ensure you are hiring new employees who won’t just survive, but who will also thrive in the matrix.