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Successful Recruiting in Matrix Organizations

by Jun 4, 2013, 6:45 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 11.33.17 AMIt’s no secret that many organizations are moving away from the traditional hierarchical and functional way of working, toward a more matrixed structure where people report to multiple bosses and work on multiple teams with colleagues in different functions and locations, if not different time zones and cultures.

While this model can be effective, it’s by no means simple. In fact, it’s a much more complex way of working. Competing goals, influence without authority and accountability without control are the norms.

For recruiters, let’s look at the implications of this shift, and whether we need different types of people and different skill sets to succeed.

In working with hundreds of organizations around the world, we have identified five factors that go together to make up the matrix mindset. Here’s the list of those factors along with some ideas of how recruiters could look for evidence that candidates have this mindset.

Self-Leadership — Look for evidence that individuals have taken control of their own goals, role, and career. Do they have a track record of finding and engaging with the other people they need to be successful? Do they carve out a role for themselves or wait for others to solve their problems?

Breadth — Ask where interviewees have thought beyond their role and function. Do they take ownership for the delivery of results that cross-organizational boundaries or do they tend just to look at things from their own functional role perspective? Do they understand the business context they work in?

Comfortable with ambiguity — Candidates who want a clearly drawn job description are likely to be disappointed in the matrix. Are they comfortable with less clarity, and do they have the confidence to propose their own ideas and suggestions? Ask for examples from their business or daily life about how they’ve dealt with ambiguity or made sense of a previously unclear situation.

Adaptive — Successful matrix managers are flexible and open to new ideas and new ways of working. They know that today’s solution to problems may not be the right answer tomorrow. Do candidates show evidence of coping with significant change in their lives and careers? Was this stressful or stimulating? Can they demonstrate some sort of personal or professional change as a result?

Influencers – Because a matrix undermines traditional authority, people use a wide range of influence techniques and sources of power to get things done. If candidates seem to always fall back on hierarchy they may be unsuccessful in the matrix.

As always, the best indicator of success is to already have been successful in this kind of environment. Because this is a new way of working for many people, however, we may have to probe more broadly to find examples of where people have demonstrated elements of this mindset.

For example, you may find evidence of self-leadership and influence in community, educational, or other aspects of people’s lives.

How people deal with major life changes can be good indicators of comfort with ambiguity and the ability to be adaptive. Moving jobs and locations can be useful areas to probe, particularly if the move meant a significant change in lifestyle, such as an international move.

For many people, the matrix mindset is underpinned by a skill set that allows them to influence others and get things done without traditional authority. Simulation can be helpful here. Recruiters can observe these skills in action by using an assessment center methodology that puts people in a complex, ambiguous environment where they have to take into account different perspectives and influence others in order to be successful. Group and individual assessment exercises can be designed to show these behaviors in action.

Working for multiple bosses is not for everyone, and it does challenge some of the traditional ideas about management. Consider that both IBM and Cisco reported losing around 20 percent of their managers in the years following the introduction of a matrix structure.

When done correctly, though, a matrix organization can lead to broader and more challenging careers and a higher level of personal development.

In the end, everyone — company leaders, their recruiters, and their employees – should keep in mind that success in a matrix environment is not about structure, but about mindset and ways of working. In this respect, recruiters have a critical role in bringing people into the organization who are both comfortable with and effective in this increasingly common way of working.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.sanfordrose.com/franklin Tom Thomson

    Thanks for the article Kevan. You may want to look into the work Dr. Janice Presser and her team at The Gabriel Institute are doing. Her Teamability technology is a great tool for hiring people into a matrix organization. The importance of coherence (something Teamability measures) is magnified in a matrix structure.

  • http://blogbysuchitra.wordpress.com/ Suchitra Mishra

    Thanks for this post, Kevan. I agree that working in this structure is not for everyone. Also, from my own experiences, I too have seen that it gives faster opportunities for growth and advancement. I just wrote a post about the “mechanics of the matrix” from the perspective of the working successfully in a matrix structure – it needs some special skills as it entails working in complexity where you may have all the responsibility but without the necessary authority. Conflict management abilities, letting go of the need to be liked and of course focus on the goal are mandatory to be able to thrive in a matrix structure.
    More in my post here – http://blogbysuchitra.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/five-tips-to-navigate-your-way-successfully-through-matrix-organizations-business-operations-performance-management/

    Regards,
    Suchitra

  • http://www.global-integration.com Kevan Hall

    Thanks for the feedback, I will check that out Tom. Suchitra you can find much more on the matrix mind-set and skillset as well as a chapter on managing matrix conflicts in my book “Making the Matrix Work” http://www.global-integration.com/matrix-management/

  • Sophie Mackenzie

    Insightful commentary Kevan, thanks. Having recruited for a matrix organisation, I know how tricky it can be! From a recruiter’s perspective, understanding who has accountability for role/salary sign off can be a challenge in this structure and you do have to quickly change your mind-set if you are used to traditional hierarchies. I always found it strange that a hiring manager could be accountable for the recruitment of someone at a more senior grade – it can cause issues around salary negotiation etc! Overall though, I felt that it created a positive company culture where even the most senior people in the matrix were open and approachable.