Making the Matrix Work For You

Increasingly, businesses are seeing the benefits of working in a matrix. But while this works for the organization, individuals can often find operating in a matrix, more than a little challenging. But there are some very simple things that you can do to make the matrix work for you. First up, polish your communication skills. When you work in a matrix, you need to be clear about your work, your direction and your deliverables. Different teams have their own internal cultures – and if you are new to that team or working across a division, you likely will miss the non-verbal communication at play. To combat this, over communicate – ask questions if you are unclear. Clarify the expectations of colleagues and learn to articulate your thoughts precisely. If you need to, take a course; but don’t overlook the importance of this communication. Secondly, remember there are only 24 hours in a day. When you work in a matrix, you are likely to have multiple deliverables from multiple teams. That means you must manage expectations of all involved. When asked to take on a new project, politely explain your level of utilization and then ask your project leader to help you prioritize your efforts. Make sure that this is clearly communicated to the people you report to, along with the expected impacts. Be sure to avoid over-committing and under delivering. These two steps can make a dramatic difference to your life. But what about leaders? How can you lead well in the matrix? Gill Corkindale suggests the following steps for leaders: Make sure the culture is robust, supportive and...

Pick Your Preferences

We like to think that we can have our cake and eat it too. However, in business, few leaders have such luxuries available. Instead, we must make choices regarding our preferences or priorities. A simple example might be speed versus accuracy. Obviously, we’d love to get things both fast and right. However, there are most definitely times where we must choose between the two. Even in this example, it is not always clear cut which choice must be made. As you can imagine, accuracy is highly desirable in anything we do, be it for business or personal purposes. However, sometimes getting something 100% accurate is overkill. It sort of follows the 80-20 rule. Sometimes getting to 80% is good enough because the “cost” associated with the final 20% may not be worth it. But, generally, I am of the philosophy of “I’d rather have it right than fast”. In a recent entry on the Harvard Business Blog site, Freek Vermeulen writes about this issue in a piece entitled Slow and Steady Wins the Growth Rate. His piece resonates with me as he uses his own experience of learning to play the cello as an analogy for his point about “time compression diseconomies” – a term coined by professors Dierickx and Cool from INSEAD. I studied violin and played for many years beginning when I was nine years old. His piece highlights a very important point – three hours does not always equal three hours. The point being that doing something for a half an hour 6 times is not the same as doing that same activity for one three...

Smart Growth for Leaders

With governments around the world developing economic stimulus packages and high level meetings of the world’s leading politicians (Davos) and thinkers (TED) – there is clearly a lot of activity and talk around growth, innovation and productivity. In amongst all this – how do we, as leaders, choose what and who to listen to? What is our filter for the torrent of information? On the one hand we have TED, the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, which brings together a raft of experts from across the broad spectrum of enterprises. And even if we cannot attend in person, the TED Talks series makes these fascinating and highly addictive discussions available to anyone with an internet connection. But how do we take this to another level? How do we move from ideas and talk to action? Umair Haque has given this some thought and has written a Smart Growth Manifesto. His manifesto suggests that we have to reboot capitalism. And he provides four pillars around which action can be built. I have attempted to take these four pillars and apply it to the business of leadership and the challenges and opportunities that these present, as follows: 1. Outcomes not income. There is no surprise for my regular readers here – I strongly believe in focusing on outcomes. In this instance, the focus is on tangible human outcomes. This means looking beyond the dollar value. If it takes a village to produce good business outcomes, what is it, that we as leaders can do to ensure the village is happy, healthy, innovative, productive and creative? How do we find ways to...

Revisiting Michael Porter’s Five Competitive Forces

Almost 30 years ago, Michael Porter identified the five competitive forces that shape business strategy. This ground-breaking work was a holistic way of looking at industry/business. Porter focuses on the need to step back from the details of running your business so that you can identify the strategic objectives that will deliver value across your organization. This is a particularly important skill for leaders — after all, it is easy to be caught up in the detail of running a business. Some even find it enjoyable. But leading a business also means being able to operate, like Richard Branson, at 30,000 feet. To recap, Porter’s five forces are: Rivalry among existing competitors Bargaining power of buyers Bargaining power of suppliers Threat of new entrants Threat of substitute products or services The Harvard Business Review have published a reaffirmation and extension of Porter’s five forces. In this 12 minute video from HBR you can hear Porter speak about the five forces, or, you can see an edited, 5 minute version, on YouTube. Nina Nets It Out: Despite being written 30 years ago, Porter’s five forces still provides a solid framework for thinking through business strategy. No matter where you are in your career, understanding this framework can provide you with a way of understanding the trends, opportunities and challenges faced by your company and your...