Question: Implementing the organizational matrix

Our multi-location office/ store equipment firm is organized around 3 axes:

1 Site (office location),
2 Client account (small business, retail, corporate) and
3 Function (sales, installation, service, etc)

So, far we have grown with a lot of autonomy for the Site... almost like a franchise. Now, to realize efficiencies and service bigger clients, we are considering creating a matrix.

Individual teams at every site will continue to roll-up under the Site GM, but also have dual-reporting to a functional or account head located at HQ.

This is a simplification of our plan, but our main concern is how to have Site GMs buy into this plan... which, in a way, reduces their autonomy and powers.

6 Expert Insights

While you see the value in the matrix and the company at large, what I don't see you articulating is what's in it for the Site GM's to change on a personal level. You mentioned they would have their autonomy reduced as is often the case with expansion where standards of performance and delivery are now required in order to maintain Brand.

What I'm wondering is what conversations you've had with the GM's?  What if you put the problem to them to solve instead of trying to put together a pre-packaged vision you have to then sell. When people solve the problems there's a higher degree of ownership than there is in mere buy-in.  Neuroscience tells us that endorphins are released in the brain when someone solves the when your GM"s solve it, they get the 'buzz' of having solved the scenario. This adds to their willingness to endorse it. In addition the inclusion of them in the situation speaks to a larger vision of collaboration that will be required it the company is going to grow.

Lastly, when someone solves their own situation, it's organically more sustainable since the solution is born from the system that will need to employ it.

What's in it for them?  (The Site GMs).  That will be the first hurdle to overcome in order to to gain buy-in.  Does this plan provide the sites with more resources or more productivity - or does it mean that they will be in a continual battle with the HQ functional/account head?  Clear roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships among HQ and the sites will be extremely important.

You will want to have all Site GMs and functional/account heads buy into a single corporate vision.  Operating values will need to be identified.  Goals will need to be clearly defined - and both Site GM and Functional/Account heads will need to be held equally accountable.

Engage your site GMs in this discussion as soon as possible.  And include the functional/account heads also.  Don't create a plan and then announce.  Rather - involve.  You well know that it is much easier to "stomach" a change of your own making.

Good luck!

You mention dual-reporting to a functional head - if by "functional" you mean "process owner," then I applaud you for your intuitive foresight. In the field of process management, this is a common matrix management structure, and one that tends to work well, without diminishing a General Manager's autonomy.

GMs, as hierarchical managers, are interested in managing many aspects of an individual's career - hiring, development, compensation, appraising, and sometimes terminating. A matrix structure where an individual also maintains a process owner (PO) diminishes none of that capacity, while occasionally sharing appraisal responsibilities between GM and PO.

What makes this matrix arrangement worthwhile is the different mindset of the Process Owner - he/she is interested in the [external] customer, who provides revenue and profits for a viable organization. Focusing on the organization's various core processes ensures that the customer is well-served by the process workers, who collectively report to multiple GMs. Thus, the process worker is "served" by a GM who is interested in his/her career, and by a PO who emphasizes the importance of keeping the customer satisfied.    

The additional benefit of this matrix arrangement is that it allows cleanly delineated process improvement efforts: when processes fail to satisfy customers consistently, the process owner appoints an ambitious and well-trained project manager to form a core team of 4-7 process workers to create a business case, gather data for root-cause analysis, and generate and implement creative solutions to reduce or eliminate the root cause(s) permanently. The advantage to the process owner is an improved process that he/she can then sustain through a strong process management mindset.

A final note: in some process-centered organizations, GMs and VPs also serve as core Process Owners, and so don't ignore the opportunity to make some of your senior leaders dual-hatted. You're on the right track!

The comments already provided by Susan & Michael regarding involvement are extremely valid and important.  Given your objective, 2 issues are important to note.  First, no matter what the size of the company, matrix organizations are hard to manage and often result in complex human reactions.  Typically, the composition of any matrix is continually in flux responding to the demands of each new project. This instability (both professional and social)  needs to be understood and managed well.  Further, the site GM's role, unless they are competent and capable of being matrix managers,  can be compared to a branch manager in a sales organization where the sales line of command by-passes the branch manager and he serves purely as an administrative/facilities & asset (e.g. inventory) overseer.  

You also suggested that added complexity of responsibilities at HQ was likely as communication channels became fractured.  Have you given adequate thought to defining the functions of each player?   What is expected of the account head? What role is he/she going to play in the course of the project?  Is participation in the matrix anticipated?  Functional parties- will they work on more than one project at a time?  If so, does that mean serving in multiple matrices simultaneously?  Is the GM an important part of the client service expectation?  

The question list grows without bounds.  I would also suggest that you visit with several organizations that use or have used matrix models to better understand the transitions--the gains and pains of your plan.  Take it slow.  Try it and get feed back from the players.  Keep communications open to allow the frustrations to be voiced.  Good luck.

Matrix organizations have some fans and a lot of detractors; the detractors are there largely due to the challenges of working for two bosses. To help a matrix work it's important to have a culture of accountability, primarily accountability to the customer, not the boss. The customer is where your functions and sites have common ground: your end-to-end value creation process includes sales → installation → service. Your functions own the pieces and Site GMs own the end-to-end.

No doubt your Site GMs will see this change to a matrix as a reduction of their autonomy and power. They need to see a win, a WIIFM, and the best win would be seeing how this change improves their business's performance. Key metrics that monitor results for sales, installations, and service combined with functional coaching that helps improve those results would probably help make the matrix work. Engaging the Site GMs and the functional leaders to help design a performance measurement system might be a great way to start a healthy working relationship among them.

Show the GM's how by giving up operational roles they can focus on sales, increase them and their bonuses.