Influencing within a Matrix

Matrix structures are becoming more and more common in Asia’s multinationals.

Individuals- used to more traditional management –  are struggling with reporting to two or more bosses, with often competing priorities and differing views on appropriate outcomes.

So how can a manager-in-the-middle negotiate the pitfalls of matrix management?

Working effectively in a matrix requires trust, cooperation, and coordination built upon a foundation of shared goals, clear roles and decision authority, and transparent and timely communication. It requires a saintlike organisation to work effectively. You can see I am not a fan of matrix organisations as my observation is that more and more energy is focused inward managing the complications around personality, agendas and structures rather than focusing outward on the business, customers and consumers.

And while these saintlike behaviours provide a foundation to encourage collaboration within an organisation, they won’t eliminate disagreements about what, when, and how to do things. To be honest, you’re not going to change a matrix organisation once you are within one- your choices are limited, leave and join a more hierarchical organisation, or stay and learn to work within the matrix structure, which requires new skills.

In order to sustain cooperation and collaboration in a global or regional matrix structure, leaders must gain others’ support for their ideas and constructively resolve differences across organizational boundaries. Therefore, it is essential for today’s leaders to build their influencing skills.

The key to influencing in a matrix is to build your influence well in advance of need to use it. If you wait until the moment when you need to change the perspective, behaviour or attitude of your matrix partners, it’s too late. The most effective matrix leaders use the following behaviours in all their daily interactions:

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Demonstrate credibility – Being seen as someone who “knows what they’re talking about” is an important determinant of whether people give your ideas and proposals appropriate consideration. And whats critical is to understand the jargon, and in-house biases within subject areas so that you can frame your views to reflect the language or concepts of the company. Its often useful to admit when you don’t know something. It may seem counter-intuitive but admitting when you don’t know something increases the likelihood people will take what you say seriously when you do express an opinion or preference.

Identify shared goals or common ground – Even a well thought out proposal will not result in a change in the other person’s behaviour or attitude if goals are not aligned. Despite the potential power of an argument and the strength of supporting data, if leaders are focused on an outcome that the other person is not interested in, they will not be successful. Rather than repeating their position more forcefully when they realize their rational argument is not having the intended effect, they take a moment to ensure goals are aligned.  Consider ensuring goal alignment by meeting with matrix partners to clarify shared goals and this also provides an opportunity to discuss how partners can help each other achieve their work unit’s goals.

Build positive work relationships – Positive work relationships and trust are a prerequisite for effective matrix leadership. Trust and relationships take time to establish and must be in place if you want to increase your flexibility in engaging other colleagues and to decrease your dependence on rational arguments that don’t influence others. A key element is demonstrating reliability by consistently meeting your commitments and keeping your promises. One way to do this is to commit to more manageable, but more frequent, milestones – enabling regular discussions and enabling you to reinforce your trustworthiness- rather than to a single final deliverable that is often more challenging and the outcome of which more difficult to manage and predict.

Get to know the needs and values of others (use DISC) – The key to effective influence is to see issues from the other person’s perspective rather than just your own. Using just the facts and focusing on just the values and benefits you think are desirable, or your believe would generally be attractive, is not as effective as clarifying the specific benefits your proposal would have for the other person or how your proposal is consistent with the specific values and beliefs that are important to them. Make time for “small talk” with matrix colleagues, for example, during a call, build in time to discuss non-work topics before moving to the formal agenda to try to find out what motivates them. Use a simple DISC profile to assess their behaviour style and plot how your behaviour style can best work with them.

Clarify what resources you control that others need or would like – One core tactic for gaining the support of others is providing resources or help that would make it less difficult for the other person to comply with the request or proposal. To do this well, you need to know what resources you control and what they need. Take time to learn about and understand your matrix partner’s business and their customer’s business. The more you understand the issues and challenges they face, the easier it will be to identify the resources you have that your matrix partners would value.

Organizations are complex structures with many interdependencies. As I have said before I believe that matrix organisations increase unnecessary complexity and create a strong impetus for internal focus and internal thinking. Its takes an enormous amount of personal time and energy, and creates stress within many people. But I don’t decide the strategies and structures of these big multi-nationals. So here’s my views on how to survive and thrive within the matrix, and in observing matrix multinationals these are the skills that survivors and thrivers display.

Within a matrix we rely on others to help achieve results, and that means cooperation and collaboration are often the key to our success. Ensuring the conditions that create and sustain cooperation and collaboration are in place is even more challenging in a matrix structure. Leaders who are able to effectively use influence to gain the support of their matrix colleagues will have much greater success in creating a culture of cooperation and achieving their business objectives in today’s matrix organizations.