At work in the island’s last remaining call centre, my title is Supervisor of Reporting & Adherence. I am aware that my title sounds strange but it is very easily explained and remains the best title drafted under the circumstances.
I work in a Matrix enviroment defined by constant shifts in hierarchy and job function. Due to the environment and nature of work, my title, like many others’ in the company, is defined by this dynamic.
In a company such as ours which is constantly growing, change is a constant. The only way to be an effective team member at any level within the company is to learn ways of managing that change.
Establishing both personal and professional techniques of change management can be the difference between being left on a disappearing landing of stairs to fall victim to the labyrinth or maintaining balance and strategically advancing. Note, that in this case when I speak of advancement I do not refer to promotions but to the satsifaction of moving closer to your departmental goals.
There is extensive literature which covers the management of change and can be researched and applied. Of note, there is no one size fits all as reasonably established by the nature of the business in which I work.
Because of the nature of the system, we are ‘making things up as we go along’. It is always wise to not only manage to the expectation of change but to manage as well to the expected difficulty.
At every moment I either actively search for opportunities for the advancement of change or initiate those changes myself in the face of the new information which I would have come across in my search. In the rare instances where we are generally in a period of necessary quiet, I will use that time to review established processes and make some adjustments with current ‘future’ information.
This article serves to share my experience and my best tips for managing effectively within an matrix environment.
The Reporting aspect of my portfolio deals with the planning, organizing and management of various reporting systems, platforms and processes within the company which are essential for operational and executive decision making as the goals of the decison-makers change or evolve, so too do the requirements of my job.
The functions of Executive Billing and the local & regional Payroll processes are the general functions in this part of the title. Within the amalgamation of my title and department there is also a separation in the title which also comes with a differentiation of spans of control, departmental structure and upward chain of command.
The other part of my portfolio, Adherence deals primarily with providing support for the areas of administrative decision-making within the company and is a quantitative function of the internal Human Resources process -dynamic by its very nature.
Adherence covers Key Performamce Indicators, Employee Metrics, Employee Performance and Productivity. This section of the department is responsible for the generation, organization and analysis of raw data and presenting the analysis as information to provide accurate measurements for the initiation and refining of Human Resoucres processes and procedures.
In this case as well there is a differentiation of the span of control, locally and regional departmental structure as well as the organizing of the separate roles and my reporting chain of command.
In short, I am expected to at all times, not only be two places at once, but to be in two frames of mind at once to be able to efficienctly manage both areas of the portfolio.
What I like most about the type of environment in which I work is that it offers great flexibility which allows my team and me great adaptability and response to our varied internal customers. Being on the spur as well had given each of us an opportunuty to show our abilities in our roles as projects and responsibilties change. We also have gained tremendously in the area of increasing our cooperation and communication (and in my case management) across borders and across the functional groups within the organization.
But there were some disadvangatges as well which I had to navigate to manage in such a way as to remain an efficient member and leader of the team.
The structure of the matrix is set up so that I report to 3 different managers within the executive branch of the organisation. In certain instances, my team members report directly to my superiors depending on the nature or urgency of the task at hand or my availability to attend to the project or problem.
The impact of this is that often my emphasis and priorities pulls me in different directions which sometimes lowers productivity or attention in one area momentarily. Naturally frustrations will occur at an executive level when the perception is that whatever the requirement, it is not being completed in a timely manner.
As a result of this, from time to time I have found myself becoming frustrated with a lack of clarity as to where the priorities lie or overburdened as in the case if autonomous decision making by the need to diffuse these priorities on my own without a clear strategy. I was also beginning to find it difficult to lead my team towards achieving good results within their task descriptions since they were muddled and being pulled in different directions. Worse of all, we began to fall behind.
Working Better in The Matrix
The easiest advice I can give is to work out how to manage priorities. The most difficult part of that is negotiating the trade-offs.
Balancing the two for an effective strategy means that you have to increase your skills in communication, networking and coaching, not only with your peers or on your downline, but in the case of your superiors.
From my personal experience, working along with the Vice President of Human Resources for my organization proved beneficial to increasing my management efficiency.
The priority for me was to have clear tasks and goals set up for each member of the team to help them to settle more into their tasks with the goal of building efficiencies at the lowest level of their work processes.
The Vice President and I met and reviewed task management and then broke the jobs into categories based on the organizational application. She resultantly came up with the job titles of: the Operations Analysts (Adherence portfolio) and the Production Analysts (Reporting portfolio). Basically, the matrix evolved when it became necessary as it so often does.
Once the titles and descriptions were established based on the needs of the organization it was then up to me to ensure compliance within the categories and to manage with the streamlining of work and the output while keeping the new structure in order.
The streamlining yeilded the result of a more focused team and that resulted in increased efficiency within the department, then within the business as a whole. The structure and execution was then rolled out to the other sites and tweaked.
Once our efficiency increased however, so did the workload. It was at this point that I had to refocus and increase my ability to work in the matrix. I had to figure out how to work AND lead in the new matrix. This is where the skill in managing priorities and trade offs came in.
In the second instance I depended on the relationships I had built with each of my superiors over time to be able to communicate what could be reasonably expected of myself and my team while pushing back against unreasonable or conflicting demands. I learnt to coach my team towards understanding my managers’ situations and especially in the area of securing feedback and progress reporting. Most of all I benefited from being able to properly discern what and who was making demands of my time and attention and where I needed to focus it at a given time for the best result.
To conclude, in the Matrix defined organisation there are positives and negatives.
I have found working in a matrix environment rewarding for several reasons. The flexibale management relationships have been a distinctive change from what I was previously educated toward and experienced in Barbados. Despite the initial challanges with aligning the focus and priorities of my managers I have found the relationships to be more open and supportive than in previous environments as I find them responsive and attentive.
There is more of a challenge in the vulnerability of the constant reorganization which can disrupt function relationships which make the business work. If properly managed however can provide great opportunites for professional development. Though the relationships in general are transactional because the majority of the work is done in clusters, it minimizes inertia due to stagnancy due to interpersonal conflict.
While it might be argued that the brief nature of these relationships seldom allow for teams to work through the forming and storming to the performing phase of the group dynamic, it is also arguable that the short-term goals minimize the storming phases and focus on reaching the goal and can foster a stronger working environment and stronger employees who are more likely to adapt to change quickly in an increasingly competitive environment.
Keisha N Hurdle