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Welcome to the Matrix
By Ivan D. Butts
NAPS Executive Vice President
With the USPS moving to the matrix management style of serving America’s postal system, I thought I would take a closer look at it. Matrix management is an organizational structure in which some individuals report to more than one supervisor or leader; such relationships are described as solid-line or dotted-line reporting.
More broadly, the arrangement also may describe the management of cross-functional, cross-business groups and other work models that do not maintain strict vertical business units or “silos” grouped by function and geography. Matrix management was developed in U.S. aerospace in the ’50s and achieved wider adoption in the ’70s.
There are different types of matrix management styles, including strong, weak and balanced. I make a presumption here that your project goals will determine the type of matrix management style the USPS will employ.
According to a Gallup study, 17% of employees today have more than one boss (a formal matrix structure) and a further 67% regularly work on multiple teams (matrix working). In addition, 95% of the top 50 Fortune and Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) companies operate a matrix. It is the norm in organizations that operate internationally or with multiple business units.
Matrix management is not a problem-free solution for the USPS, which obviously believes its organizational structure up to this point has been a failure. This change in management philosophy has some inherent pitfalls and challenges that will require the agency to provide proper training, development and mentoring.
Some of the challenges that professionals in matrix-style management report, and that I feel apply to the USPS, include:
There are some keys to success for employees recommended by industry professionals that, hopefully, the USPS is sharing through its training, developing and mentoring of this new organizational structure. I wholeheartedly agree with the professionals on this important key: Document everything.
Type an email memo to your manager(s) every day regarding complications and successes. This way, you have documentation of your performance and work throughout the project.