energizing breakthrough performance

Rent the Stadium!

Author: ; Published: May 21, 2015; Category: Collaboration, Leadership; Tags: ; No Comments»

The CEO of a scientific enterprise decided that the organizational culture needed to change. After years of autocratic rule, there was a pent-up need to make the culture more inclusionary and participative, moving away from a strict “need-to-know” basis characteristic of a rigid hierarchy. Meetings came to involve progressively larger numbers of people. Smaller conference rooms fell into disuse as larger conference rooms were booked week in and week out. Absent complete consensus, no decision was made. Decisional gridlock grew worse. Sometimes it would seem that a decision had been reached only to find that a “huddle after the huddle” caused it to unravel or be reversed several days later.  More people were getting involved but fewer decisions were being made. The decisions that were reached were less certain and sturdy, more diluted than anyone wanted. What’s more, staff feared exclusion because career well-being was perceived as revolving around visibility at meetings rather than around genuine contribution.


As the organization lost faith in its ability to move quickly, every move, no matter how minor, involved a large entourage. Results-oriented people were finding ways to circumvent the crowds and get things done “their own way.” As each faction pursued solutions in its own way, nascent anarchy picked up a head of steam.


Top executives became fixated on the process of inclusion and on minimizing discontent. The process of setting strategic priorities, e.g., deciding what not to do, allocating resources, aligning talent, etc., was getting lost.


Who can be against transparency and inclusion? It builds a future generation of leadership and confers additional benefits. On the other hand, renting the stadium to ensure that everyone has been included is not sustainable for all issues all of the time.


The solution was to adopt a Decision Process Model for making, ratifying, and communicating decisions and to clarify roles and responsibilities with precision sufficient to target meeting attendance with greater parsimony. The model pre-specified types of decisions where complete consensus is necessary vs. alternate forms of decision-making process, authority and accountability. When roles are poorly defined, there is no sharp edge for cutting meeting attendance to the vital few, and no basis for avoiding rent-the-stadium syndrome. Even good intentions can have unintended consequences, which must be managed promptly before things get out of hand.

Matrix Management, Culture, and Resistance to Change

Author: ; Published: Feb 5, 2013; Category: Collaboration, Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: ; No Comments»

The successful implementation of matrix management is accompanied by significant changes in organizational culture.  My working definition of organizational culture is what employees think and do when the boss isn’t looking.  Cultural changes cannot be dictated from on high although executive visions of desired cultural changes are important, in fact, essential to communicate throughout the organization as “air cover” for transformation. That said, real cultural change is a “ground war,” which happens when and only when significant changes in employee behavior accumulate. When changes in employee behavior take hold and reach a tipping point, cultural change momentum is achieved and thereafter tends to accelerate as late adopters and laggards end their resistance and get on board with the rest of the organization, at last convinced that the cultural change is an enduring one and not a “flavor of the month.”


There are numerous cultural shifts that are associated with successful implementation of matrix management and I won’t itemize all of them here.  That said, in many organizations the shifts include:


n      Adoption of a “one-firm concept” mindset which emphasizes the success of the organization as a whole rather than discrete components of the enterprise


n      Full embrace of horizontal accountability as well as vertical accountability, i.e., where  “dotted line” relationships take on equal importance with “solid line” relationships


n      Members of management learning to stay in their respective vertical or horizontal “swim lanes,” and coming to accept the basic matrix role dichotomy, whereby they no longer control both the horizontal and the vertical aspects of organizational life


n      Emphasis on solving multidisciplinary challenges at the lowest possible level in the hierarchy, prompting greater risk-taking within defined constraints rather than elevating all issues to the top a la “Mother May I?”


n      Horizontal management of alignment, multifunction synergy, and conscious prevention of fizzles, fumbles, and foibles when the baton is passed across the organization


n      Changes in manager and employee behavior whereby “dueling priorities” or “crunches” are identified and remedied promptly


And the list goes on.


In training and consulting to more than 70 clients who have adopted or are refining a matrix organization, I have sometimes encountered pockets of resistance to change, particularly in “strong culture” enterprises. Over the years, I have come to regard such resistance as a good thing.  To me, it means that the employee who is expressing reservations or complaints is mentally “trying on” new behaviors and like a good pair of new shoes, is finding that they may pinch a bit when first worn. The good news is that the employee is taking the change seriously and is trying to wrap their minds around it. To the extent that the employee finds these changes inconsistent with the behaviors that have brought them success thus far in their careers, there can be moments of apprehension and a higher degree of resistance. Expressions of resistance may be impolitic, but it is important to listen to the message more than critique its delivery. Akin to “growing pains,” some resistance is not only natural; it’s a positive sign that real change is taking hold. Don’t dismay: Managing the change process to convert the resistance to positive momentum for transformation makes all of the difference.