The global recession and threat of a jobless
recovery have converged with decade-long seismic shifts in the
1) to create profound implications for today's employees.
These volatile changes have been dubbed the "new normal,"
where long-held assumptions have changed, perhaps permanently.
This new normal, defined by a changed economic reality, requires a
different order of efficiency to "enable businesses and
organizations to simultaneously drive cost savings, improve
productivity, and speed innovation," Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's
CEO, wrote on his New Efficiency website.
In many organizations, a matrix structure is implemented to address
the requirement to do more with less and become more agile. With
implications for organizational design, rewards, and learning
solutions, the matrix structure, which focuses on horizontal as
well as vertical management, has become more widespread as a result
of globalization and the need to deliver products and services to
the marketplace at a faster pace than ever before.
First introduced in the aerospace industry
in the 1960s, the matrix structure can have several different
organizing principles and various permutations, with the
underlying purpose to facilitate parallel, instead of
sequential progress of task development (Table
2). Requiring greater coordination across multiple
stakeholders, the matrix structure is less straightforward
than the more traditional command-and-control management
Benefits of the matrix
Despite its inherent complexity, the matrix approach is increasing
in use, particularly by top companies. According to the Hay Group,
the majority of the World's Most Admired Companies use this
structure for competitive advantage. The compelling benefits
- deploying expertise as needed throughout the enterprise for specific initiatives
- promoting cross-functional problem solving
- reducing cost by leveraging resources
- creating a balance of power between functions
- balancing competing priorities, such as global vs. local or product vs. geography
- fostering innovation, as multiple perspectives focus on key issues
- accelerating products and services to market.
By consolidating expertise to deploy to projects as needed, the
matrix structure can promote more efficient use of corporate
resources and leverage economies of scale. At Avon Products, for
example, the matrix structure was initially adopted in global
business units, such as supply chain, as a way to rationalize
resources and gain alignment of goals. The application of the
matrix has increased over time.
Renee E. Russell, executive director of HR and change management,
service model transformation at Avon explains, "The matrix quickly
broadened to obtain alignment across multiple functions, such as
HR, IT, finance, and marketing."
At Avon, the matrix structure promotes greater alignment. "We have
more of a focus on the value that we offer in our products, and the
matrix has helped us to create alignment of people and processes to
bring our value proposition to life," Russell says. "The emphasis
on working productively is reinforced through the performance
In addition to the benefits of the matrix for internal efficiencies
and collaboration, a company's external marketplace image may also
be enhanced. "As a consumer products company, the matrix is
important from a marketing perspective to leverage our branding
around the world and build consistency," says Russell.
Even in organizations that use a formal matrix structure on a
fairly limited basis, such as Verizon Communications (where this
approach is primarily used in the IT function and Verizon Business
to leverage Network Engineers and other professionals on behalf of
the customer), greater integration across functions is a given.
"The need for information flowing across the organization has
increased exponentially due to the competitive environment and the
relentless pace of technology. So even in groups that don't have a
formal matrix structure, it is essential to maximize the horizontal
flow of information so that systems, relationships, and processes
work together as seamlessly as possible and we leverage our scale,"
says Michael P. Flanagan, senior staff consultant at Verizon
At another end of the spectrum in terms of usage, Bristol-Myers
Squibb Company is heavily matrixed throughout its global
organization. "We have the matrix every way it can be organized,
including geographically, functionally, and on a product basis,"
says Jane Luciano, vice president of global learning and
organization development at Bristol-Myers Squibb. "Based on our
size and [the fact that we are] in a highly regulated industry, the
matrix helps us to gain control of issues as they travel around the
globe and to leverage economies of scale."
Challenges with the matrix approach
The matrix structure is complicated, so it can have the unintended
consequence of reducing intended goals of speed, innovation, and
collaboration. Multiple factors can inhibit successful matrix
- reduced accountability
- internal competitiveness
- slower, not faster decision making
- greater conflict
- focus on internal politics at the expense of an external customer focus.
Arguably, the current economic climate may foster some of these
behaviors if not addressed. For example, when employees are
concerned about job security, individuals may revert to acting as a
"lone wolf" or strive to be the project hero, rather than
leveraging the diverse capabilities that matrix members offer.
Leadership and organizational values are critical to reducing these
dysfunctional behaviors. The recently published "Towers Watson 2010
Global Workforce Study" found that in the midst of fundamental
changes in the employee-employer contract, having leaders who
connect with employees on an emotional level is more important than
ever; 79 percent look for a senior leader who is trustworthy.
Organizational support for the matrix
In addition to visible leaders who model desired behaviors,
organizational culture and values are also key drivers for
effective matrix functioning and clearly support the matrix at
Avon. "One of the things that really helps at Avon is that we have
a collaborative culture, and our values and leadership behaviors
help support effective matrix functioning," Russell says.
Corporate values also play an important role at Verizon
Communications. "Creating a shared vision is a key factor," says
Flanagan. "One of the best ways to break down silos in large
organizations is to have a clear vision that gives context to
everyone's roles and responsibilities. Communicating frequently and
consistently about goals and purpose is essential. In the midst of
change and complexity, our core values become a key driver of
behavior for the company and keep the organization focused on
delivering for the customer."
Russell describes the matrix approach at Avon as "tremendously
helpful in terms of leveraging best practices across the world; for
example, with talent and performance management processes and sales
This benefit is also being realized at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which
operates in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry. "The
matrix has enabled us to upgrade and promote excellence around core
capabilities, so we can be very purposeful in developing functional
expertise in specific disciplines, such as marketing, medical, HR,
or finance excellence. We can define and develop skill sets and
reduce variability, even though our employees are globally
dispersed," Luciano says.
Making the matrix work
To make the matrix work, some of the critical organizational
- a mapped-out organizational design for greater clarity
- visible, consistent leadership support
- aligned goals, both vertical and horizontal
- rewards that promote collaboration and joint decision making
- clearly defined operating-governance process and practices
- clear accountabilities and decision rights
- talent management strategies, including recruitment and retention approaches, that support the matrix
- aligned performance measures at the next level up
- diagnostic tools to monitor both behavior and results
- an "enterprise lens" as the vision of success, rather than individual or functional achievement.
Desired matrix behaviors must be reinforced at an organizational
level. "Operating in the matrix is a key competency that our
employees are measured on, not only by their immediate managers,
but other key stakeholders within the matrix," Russell explains.
Alignment is also emphasized across Bristol-Myers Squibb, says
Luciano, and has "to be focused organizationally and not
functionally. Consistent, shared corporate-level goals are an
example of this. We have had to wrestle with this in other areas;
for example, where do decision rights sit? We have had to think
through who is responsible for people management and management of
work, decision making, and accountability to ensure that there is
alignment to deliver on business goals."
While organizational design is essential to matrix effectiveness,
the formal structure alone is not sufficient to produce intended
results. "We have had to transcend structure to make the best
decisions about distribution of resources and finding the right
balance between addressing local market conditions, business
dynamics and corporate goals," Luciano says.
Technology is another organizational support tool that has many
applications to promote alignment and make the matrix work more
effectively. In the case of Avon, although matrix members may be
operating remotely, there is a commitment to have at least some
face-to-face time - interaction which may foster a higher level of
comfort and trust.
When travel restrictions prohibit in-person interactions, a vast
array of technological tools may be leveraged as a proxy to build
relationships, such as internal social networking, online
collaboration tools, and teleconferences.
"We leverage a number of technology tools to enhance matrix
functioning, including global town halls, teleconferencing, radio
shows, WebEx, and telepresence rooms," says Russell. "Many global
projects have a dedicated website and all of these things promote
communication and alignment."
Learning support for the matrix
Clearly, the matrix requires a set of organizational supports,
including defined roles, aligned reward systems, and visible
executive support - not all of which are within the learning
However, training and development
professionals have an important role to play to promote
effective matrix functioning. Some of the tools that Russell
of Avon employs include using a RACI chart (Table
3) and the team model designed by Patrick Leniconi
1). Russell stresses clarity and simplicity.
"When I'm working with a matrixed team, I always start by
emphasizing that they have to be clear and aligned on the strategy,
goals, structure, and rewards; and most importantly link their
goals to that of their key stakeholders. They have to understand
how what they want to do affect others," Russell says.
At Bristol-Myers Squibb, learning
professionals have "defined a framework and roles in decision
making, clarifying who gets to make which decisions with what
advisors and have implemented a learning process around this,"
"We have learned over time that when there is a lack of
cross-functional alignment, it is not typically at the goal level,
where we reach agreement quickly about intent, but more typically
at the resource and work level. From an OD and learning
perspective, we have helped with this issue by chartering at an
initiative level and helping people think through resources,
interdependencies, risks, resources and constraints."
Five matrix learning solutions
Here are five high-impact ways in which the training and
development function can facilitate matrix effectiveness:
- Embed matrix best practices into leadership development programs. Assess the degree to which your organization's program design supports effective matrix functioning, and make modifications where needed.
- Leverage leader-led learning, where executives visibly support the behaviors that will promote the matrix. Long promoted as a high-impact way to demonstrate organizational support, bringing executives into the classroom to reinforce the importance of the matrix structure to company strategy is a highly effective way to promote desired results.
- Provide specific training on the matrix and promote best practices. Targeted approaches, which may incorporate formal and informal learning, can be offered to all employees, not only leaders, who work in a matrix structure. In addition, matrix best practices may be posted and shared through discussion boards and other forums.
- Incorporate matrix learning into onboarding materials. When new employees who will have significant matrix interactions are transitioning into the organization, onboarding should include this focus as part of the learning mix.
- Teach critical behaviors, including collaboration, communication skills, conflict management, team alignment, emotional intelligence, and building cross-functional networks. Pivotal to the success of a matrix structure, these learned skills have relevance for all organizational structures and can be woven throughout curricula for employees at different levels and functions.
The new normal, characterized by the requirements of "doing more
with less" and increased agility, is likely to be a permanent
feature of the workplace going forward. "The current economic
climate accentuates the need for a matrix mindset. Customers and
consumers are spending less and there is a corresponding
requirement to manage resources in an optimal way," says Flanagan.
The new financial reality requires many shifts in behavior and
attitudes. Learning professionals can help their organizations
navigate new requirements to promote effective working
relationships that foster growth and profitability - even in a
downturn. "As a large global organization, our size can detract
from our ability to build trust," Luciano says. "From a culture
perspective, we are very focused on ways to build connections and
trust that will make our relationship culture be a competitive
advantage. Our learning efforts are focused on ways to help people
be open enough to listen to one another, to connect and collaborate
and have constructive dialogue."
Promoting critical success factors for matrix effectiveness - such
as collaboration and teamwork - through targeted learning design is
important in the new normal. Organization will benefit because it
will enable them to execute the matrix more effectively, and
individual workers will benefit because it will help them develop
highly portable, critical competencies. t+d