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Introduction to Matrix Management

A leader is responsible to empower his people and get the best out of them. Yet an organisational structure can either help or hamper performance. Worst, it can make or break success.

Looking at the fast-changing world of the global economy, whatsoever slows up and obstructs decision-making is a challenge. Hierarchical management is rather unattractive and functional silos are unlikable. Instead, employees desire to create teams equipped with flexibility, cooperation and coordination.

Recognising that companies have both vertical and horizontal chains of command, the matrix model is created. The concept of this principle lies in the ability to manage the collaboration of people across various functions and achieve strategic objectives through key projects.

Consider this scenario:

Ian is a sales executive of a company. His role is to sell a new product under the supervision of a product manager. The manager is expert about the product and she is accountable to coordinate the people across the organisation, making sure the product is achieved.

Moreover, Ian also reports to the sales manager who oversees his overall performance, monitors his pay and benefits and guides his personal development.

Complicated it may seem but this set-up is common to companies that seek to maximise the effect of expert product managers, without compromising the function of the staffing overhead in control of the organisation. This is a successful approach to management known as Matrix Management.

Matrix Management Defined

Matrix management is a type of organisational management wherein employees of similar skills are shared for work assignments. Simply stated, it is a structure in which the workforce reports to multiple managers of different roles.

For example, a team of engineers work under the supervision of their department head, which is the engineering manager. However, the same people from the engineering department may be assigned to other projects where they report to the project manager. Thus, while working on a designated project, each engineer has to work under various managers to accomplish the job.

Historical Background

Although some critics say that matrix management was first adopted in the Second World War, its origins can be traced more reliably to the US space programme of the 1960’s when President Kennedy has drawn his vision of putting a man on the moon. In order to accomplish the objective, NASA revolutionised its approach on the project leading to the consequent birth of “matrix organisation”. This strategic method facilitated the energy, creativity and decision-making to triumph the grand vision.

In the 1970’s, matrix organisation received huge attention as the only new form of organisation in the twentieth century. In fact it was applied by Digital Equipment, Xerox, and Citibank. Despite its initial success, the enthusiasm of corporations with regards to matrix organisation declined in the 1980’s, largely because it was complex.

Furthermore, the drive for motivating people to work creatively and flexibly has only strengthened. And by the 1990’s, the evolution of matrix management geared towards creation and empowerment of virtual teams that focused on customer service and speedy delivery.

Although all forms of matrix has loopholes and flaws, research says that until today, matrix management is still the leading approach used by companies to achieve organisational goals.

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Shared Services – Are They A Good Idea

Things happen fast in business and we need to stay on top. It does not seem long ago that some enterprises were still hands-on traders or artisans with a few youngsters to help out. People like that did not do admin and their accounting was a matter of making sure there was enough money in the jar.

When Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton took over his first shop in 1945 things had moved on from there, although he did still deal directly with his customers. When he died his legacy was 380,000 jobs, and a business larger than most economies. So there’s plenty we can learn from how he grew his business.

One of Sam’s secrets was his capacity to centralise what needed gathering together, while empowering store managers to think independently when it came to local conditions. His regional warehouses had individual outlets clustered around them within one day’s drive each. This shared service eliminated 90% of safety stock and released capital for expansion.

Wal-Mart took sharing services a step further in February 2006, when it centralised accounts payable, accounts receivable, general accounting and human resources administration at Wal-Mart Stores and Sam’s Clubs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The objective was to bring costs down, while allowing local managers more time to focus on their business plans and other initiatives. As a further spin-off, Wal-Mart was able to integrate its data on a single SAP platform and eliminate significant roadblocks.

This is an excellent example of sharing services by creating own centres of excellence.  Of course, this is not the only business possibility. Other corporates have successfully completely outsourced their support activities, and Wal-Mart has no doubt had a variety of similar offers too. But, is the Wal-Mart picture entirely rosy, or is there a catch?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants has indicated that top talent may be the loser globally. This is because the Wal-Mart model removes many challenges through standardisation, and offers less scope for internal promotion as a result. Language and cultural differences may also have a long-term detrimental effect on the way the departments work well together.

Local outsourcing – this is the business model where several firms engage a shared service provider independently- may hence prove to be a more malleable option for smaller companies. It often makes more sense to hunt down made-to-order services. Offerings such as the professional support we offer on this site.

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  • We seek to understand your technology and business challenges
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