How To Make a Matrix Operating Model Work

How To Make a Matrix Operating Model WorkThere has been much written about how to conquer, master, lead, contribute to, manage, etc., in a matrix organization. And, most of this is well thought through and helpful to people needing to understand this kind of organizational model. Over the years I have seen organizations apply these models and observed how insufficient they can be. Intellectual understanding is just the first step. Success is dependent on the quality of interpersonal relationships.

We can shift mindsets, learn and apply new tools to clarify roles, interdependencies and decision processes. All fine. However, I often have found some basics missing elements can cause regression if not total logjams. People can understand the matrix, yet until they live in this new world with an understanding of the similarities and differences of how they and their colleagues prefer to think, decide and lead under normal times, as well as under stress, the success of the matrix is at risk of producing the sweeping change that is intended.

Consider this: Your organization has just announced a major change in the global operating model to one where country leaders no longer exist as masters of their domain. They are focused on convening and leading and/or participating in multifunctional/multi-country teams to address major strategic opportunities and/or issues that are really important to the future of the enterprise. You attend several meetings where the new model is explained, and roles, processes and decision models are detailed. Now the reality sets in. How are you going to work this new model with people you don’t really know? How will you get to know them well enough to work through the conflicts that are inherent in this new operating model? Sound familiar?

Or, how about this scenario? You are an executive who has been leading your organization through a 2-year transformation to a matrix structure. This makes total strategic sense. Over the course of this time while fixed costs are down, the number of meetings has increased, the pace of bringing innovations to market has slowed and you seem to spending an increasing amount of time clarifying roles and interdependencies with your executive team. And, at times, moderating disagreements about turf. You are wondering if this will ever really work without a wholesale change across executive ranks. Sound familiar?

Here’s a suggestion to consider. Start by learning about yourself. Next learn about your colleagues. Then apply this learning to map out specific ways to meet one another where you all are regarding preferences for thinking, decision-making and leading. Why? Simple, because you are all different and that difference can disable or enable great things for your organization in the matrix. Our differences service as filters for choosing how we lead and contribute in the matrix.

I have some simple tools that will help you. Or you can access them yourself. My top 3 are the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (thinking preference), Meyers Briggs (decision-making preference) and The Leadership Wheel (leadership preference under normal and stressful times).

And, the reason these are my top picks is that they provide very practical suggestions about how to build and sustain relationships in business, with colleagues, associates and customers.

Know thyself first, then seek to understand others. Finally, meet people where they are as people first, in the matrix.

How to Become a High Performing Leader in the New Year

How to Be a High Performing Leader

Can you relate to any of the following?

  • I really don’t look forward to going to work. I feel burned-out.
  • I’m increasingly avoiding interactions with people, especially when they don’t seem to value me.
  • I think I’m doing a good job, but I know I have some areas where I could be doing better. I’m worried that they are holding me back.
  • I always seem to be overlooked when new leadership opportunities arise. I don’t understand, because I do a good job and I’m certainly qualified.
  • I feel like I’m underpaid for my contributions.
  • I keep seeing others get more opportunities offered to them, even though they aren’t nearly as good as me.

I’m going to assume that you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this Blog right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it?


The real question is why?

All of these scenarios are very real. Don’t feel bad. You’re definitely not alone. Most of us can relate to at least one of them. I know that I personally can relate to more than one!

So if so many of us feel this way, what’s really going on? Why aren’t we satisfied? Why do we feel we’re being overlooked, undervalued, and underutilized?


What’s going on?

Well, I’m going to tell you something you may not want to hear. The problem isn’t with everyone else. They aren’t idiots. Or stupid. Or unaware. Or out to get you. Or any of the million and one reasons we think that we’re not where we should be. The problem is you. I mean that in the nicest way possible. It’s not that you aren’t full of potential or doing a very good job. Indeed, you may be awesome in many aspects of what you do. The problem is, you aren’t being experienced this way by others. Somehow, they aren’t seeing all of your capabilities.

I’m sure you go to work each day wanting to do your best. We all do. Nobody sets out to do a lousy or even mediocre job. No one goes into work specifically trying to hold someone else back or stop someone from succeeding. We’re too busy trying to get ahead ourselves.

We all want to have a positive impact on our organization’s success. In fact, most of us are so confident in what we have to offer, that we want to be recognized by our peers so that we can contribute at higher and higher levels. So why is it that if we’re all wanting to do our best, be recognized by our peers, have the best intentions to see our organizations succeed, that so many of us feel that we’re not being fully accepted or recognized?


Celebrate the Differences

As people, we all operate differently. We’re all shaped by our past experiences as well as our DNA. At the core that means we all receive and process information differently. Some people can only understand and process information when they see it visually while others simply need to hear the words. Then again, some of us like to have things explained in detail while others prefer to figure it out for themselves. You might need regular positive reinforcement, while your co-worker is perfectly satisfied with just an annual review. I could go on and on. The point is, we’re all different.

These differences are actually a good thing. These differences allow us to grow both personally and professionally. It fosters innovation and creativity, critical factors to any organizations success. Think of it this way, if a company wasn’t made up of different personalities, it would end up as the corporate version of the Stepford Wives! But, because we’re all so different, it also means that we’re always going to face challenges in the workplace. That is, at least until we learn how to manage the process.


Invest In Yourself

If you really feel that you have the DNA of a high performer with fantastic long-term potential, consider a few essential steps you need to take for your own career, with your current employer or another one. It is about asking the right questions of the right people at the right time and realizing that we were given two ears and a mouth for a reason. And the first person you need to ask is yourself.

You need to ask the hard questions of yourself first. Examine yourself to pinpoint who you really are, what gifts you possess, the weaknesses that you have and what you need to learn. And that’s just a start. Self-reflection is a critical step in the process. However, the information you gather from this is only internal. To really get a full 360 view of yourself, and become more self aware, you also need to look to others.

Unfortunately, most of us do not reach out to our colleagues to learn how they experience us, which is a real shame. Not just to ourselves, but to the organizations that we work for. Because when we don’t feel that we’re being recognized for our commitment to the organization or accepted for our gifts, we start feeling dissatisfied.

We become less supportive of others. We stop trying so hard to innovate and problem solve. We care less about how our actions affect others. In a nutshell, we start doing lesser quality work. Thus starts the almost never-ending cycle of corporate dysfunction.

By not asking, we can’t learn. Without learning we can’t plan and take actions that help us to have greater impact and receive appropriate recognition that advances our careers. We are essentially operating in the dark. We’re frustrated and even if we get a new job, we’re likely to have the same experience over and over again.


Sound familiar?

When this happens, some of us may conclude that the organization is a bad fit and/or the people that we work with are incompetent, or at least not as smart as we are. Yes, there are difficult people in many companies. However, they are much fewer in number than you might think.

For example, maybe last week I said or did something that rubbed you the wrong way. Did you give me the feedback, ask me what was behind the works or action, explain why it upset you, and ask me how else we might have dealt with the issue? Probably not!

To be honest, if our roles were reversed today, I would have this conversation with you. But I definitely wouldn’t have done so earlier in my career. It takes confidence, and yes, skills to hold conversations like that. Skills that allow you to hear the feedback while giving others space to share their opinion. At the end of the day, while there are some people that are just plain difficult, most are really just different than you. But remember, that differences can be a good thing!

What you need to recognize and accept, is that if you don’t find out the answers to why you don’t think you’re being accepted, recognized, or just truly fulfilled, you’re just going to keep having the same experiences over and over again. Not fun!


So why not ask?

Asking for others’ opinions about you is often a toughie for most people. And believe me I understand that in the beginning, gathering such personal feedback can seem daunting. Here are some of the feelings or thoughts that may be holding you back:

  • You think you know what you might hear and simply don’t want to hear it.
  • You fear the unknown and choose to wait for something good (or bad) to happen.
  • You don’t deal with negative (let’s call it constructive) feedback very well.
  • You’ve sought feedback in the past and received little of value.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a host of other reasons. Frankly, all of which are excuses for putting this off. In other words, it’s BS.

If you really want to do your best, have a big impact and be recognized, you need to take initiative and risk. It is all about you getting out of your chair and engaging your colleagues. If you need help getting started, contact a trusted internal or external advisor or consultant.

Oh, if we were only taught in school how to assess ourselves and how to solicit feedback from others as the basis to build and maintain relationships, life would have been so much easier. Fortunately, it is not too late unless you simply no longer care about your contributions or whatever it is that anyone might say to you or about you.

While there is no magic in the process I have outlined for you, I do promise that if you apply it with diligence and a genuine motivation to learn, you will experience a difference in the impact you have and the recognition you receive. And yes, you will also be a happier person.


The Process

Get to know yourself: Although, like relationship building, we were not taught self assessment, most of us can take a pretty good guess at what makes us tick. Here are some questions you could apply immediately to help you fill in some of the gaps you may have:

  1. What are the life events that have most shaped who you are today?
  2. What do you love to do—the stuff that makes your heart swell?
  3. What do you do exceptionally well—the stuff people will talk about at your memorial service?
  4. What do you want to learn and why is this important to you?
  5. What kind of work-life environment is ideal?
  6. What sacrifices are you willing and able to make to obtain this?

Additionally, there are some great free online tools you can try to help you understand your personality and thinking preferences, as well as other attributes. Here are a couple of links:

Thinking Styles:
Personality Preference:
Leadership Preference:

Unless you are a hermit, there are people in your life outside who would be very willing to give you some insight, if you ask and listen with two ears and no mouth. Then ask questions to understand, not defend.

Learn about how you show up to colleagues: For a host of reasons, people with whom we work may experience us differently that our intent. This can be because of culture, position power (or lack thereof inherent in our position), and/or stories about us that will live on forever that do not reflect who we are today and a host of other possibilities. The best and most genuine way to learn is to ask. Simple, yes. Requires courage and vulnerability, yes. If you have never done it, it may confuse folks and even worse. So, here are some suggestions.

  1. Start with one person who you most respect and trust. Ask them how they experience your leadership. Again, listen with both ears and ask for examples that will help connect the generalized comments with specific situations and behavior. Do not defend or even offer explanation. Thank that person and ask them who else on the team they believe would be willing and able to provide insight—observations that might be different than the ones you just heard. Do not restrict your discussions to only those who report directly to you. Include those who are able and willing to share their thoughts.
  2. Talk with the next person and repeat the process until you start to get redundant information.
  3. After you have completed your discussions, summarize what you heard that you agree with, and do not understand. Most importantly, make some commitments to yourself that you are prepared to share with your colleagues.
  4. At this juncture, you have a choice. You can put all those who provided you with a perspective around the table and share what you learned and open the conversation up to more dialogue. You can also do this in one-on-one meetings with those with whom you had discussions.
  5. In any case, you should share a summary of learning and commitments with your direct reports and all those you interviewed.
  6. Make a plan: Without a plan, you are likely to do nothing. By now you have gained new insight into your distinct gifts, weaknesses that could derail you and a few things that would be helpful for you to learn to be more effective in current and future roles that may or may not be with your current employer. Format does not matter. Just be sure you address the following for strengths, weaknesses and development areas. What are you going to do to leverage strengths, manage weaknesses before they become fatal flaws and acquire new skills and knowledge? What resources, internal or external can help you? What are incremental measures of progress/success? How will you collect information to judge your own progress?
  7. Work the plan: Seriously, apply as much rigor and discipline to your own journey to high performance as you would to your business, project or even training for a marathon. Just do it!
  8. There is no grace or forgiveness: You have put yourself out there, take risks, become a model for your colleagues and make commitments. If you do not deliver, your credibility will go to hell in a hand basket. So, get going.

As I have helped many current and next generation executives through this process, I have experienced the gift of seeing many people apply what they learned to become a much more professionally and personally fulfilled and happy person.

I know that this can be a difficult undertaking for anyone, regardless of where you are in your career or your life. That’s why I’m offering you the opportunity to schedule a FREE 30-minute call with me to get you started and help you overcome any barriers that might be holding you back. This isn’t a sales call or anything like that. I genuinely want to see you succeed and find fulfillment in your job.

Many years ago someone gave me the gift of a similar process that I have evolved over the years. My commitment was to “pay it forward”. This is sincerely why I offer this to you. All I ask in return is that you to do the same.

And if you have interest in paying it forward through a unique service learning experience for executives, please visit and maybe I will get to see you in War, West Virginia in April 2016.

The answer ultimately lies within you. It’s for you to solve and figure out. So let’s dig in. Give me a call or text me at 708.369.1718. It’s time to get started!


Happy New Year!

Butterflies and Leaders

Butterflies and LeadersOver the course of my career, I have been challenged to take on new and different leadership roles. For the past 17 years as a consultant, this is a regular occurrence. The most daunting experience for me was when I started my first consulting business. It took me far outside my comfort zone. I went from having not one, but two executive assistants, to looking at my calendar and having nothing booked for days. I went from a regular paycheck and paid benefits to having to “eat what I killed.” While I relished the thought of doing real work rather than sitting in meetings or behind a very large wooden desk, the reality of having to do it all myself was scary. This was so much harder than I had ever imagined.

As things got rolling, it was a struggle to meet all the demands on my time. And there’s always a snafu somewhere along the way too. On one of those tough days, a friend shared a story with me — one about a butterfly…
I know, I know. What can butterflies have to do with business leadership? As I reflect on my work with executives across industries, and with companies of all sizes and stages of maturity, I have been fortunate to know many butterflies going through reincarnation!

The high performing/high potential leader-butterfly wakes up one day to find they are reborn in a new role as a caterpillar. After a short while, the lowly caterpillar goes inside its cocoon to build the strength and wisdom required to emerge as a highly effective new leader-butterfly. Along the way, the new leader has to establish their new identity, essentially fighting for their release from the cocoon. And it’s a struggle, a big one. No one can help because if anyone or anything helps it emerge, the wings won’t develop. It won’t have the strength to fly. It will die.

You see, it’s the struggle that gives it the ability to become the beautiful creature it was born to be.
Being in business, especially as a small business owner, is much the same. If we don’t want to deal with the trials and tribulations, or if someone tries to take over and solve our problems for us, we can’t grow. Then we won’t learn and develop the skills that we need to become stronger ourselves.

I think that I’m very much like the butterfly still in the cocoon. And that is a good thing. It helps me to be open to new thoughts, people and things, and serves as the basis for my learning. I have to be patient, allowing myself, and my business, to grow and develop. And trust me, patience has not always been my strong suit! But if I push too hard, too soon, or if I avoid facing the tough stuff, I risk my personal and professional success. I’m still all about using resources and having people help me when appropriate. But I’ve realized that I can’t use those resources to do things I’m simply trying to avoid. I’m the one pushing forward. I’m the one responsible. I’m accountable for my own success.

Who knew a butterfly could teach me so much?

People in transition from and to new roles in life, and those stuck in the middle have always been important to me. I have made several transitions in my life and probably have a couple more in front of me. My first was really big and I could not afford to pay the professional who was so helpful to me. So, I made a decision to just “pay it forward,” something I have never regretted. I encourage all my professional and personal friends to do the same without any expectation for anything in return. Transitions are hard. We have all experienced this. Reach out! ‬

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