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What is the (strong) matrix?

One of the more effective, but often complex, types of organizational structures is that of a strong matrix design. According to the project management lexicon, a strong matrix organization is “a type of matrix organization where the project manager has moderate to high authority and in most cases is in a full-time role. The project manager has more control over the budget and resources compared to a functional manager and PMO is generally staffed full-time.”

Matrix Meme

Simply put, the strong matrix takes the traditional matrix driven organization and puts even greater authority in the hands of a project manager. You often see this type of structure in consulting companies, I.T. organizations or project engineering firms. It is (often) a very effective way of leading project teams to accomplish desired organizational goals of on time delivery, improved quality, revenue and gross profit/cash flow targets. It is also an effective structure for providing career development for staff in organizations that are either traditionally flat (due to smaller size) or for those that want technical staff to be able to develop their career without having to pursue a position in management.

As a writer and HR Pro, I am neither pro nor con when it comes to an opinion of the strong matrix structure. I believe in the right environment, with the right organization and the right leadership, it can be a highly successful structure. However, in my experience, it either works (or it doesn’t) based on one key factor. That factor is TRUST. Simply put, in order for various functional heads to work together and have their people operating under different project managers but still report (competency and career-wise) back to the functional head, you have to have a lot of trust. Department heads have to trust that the structure exists to support the broader organizational goals. They have to trust in each other that everyone understands and is working towards accomplishing these broader organizational goals. Above all else, in order to instill this trust, organizational leadership has to provide the vision. They have to clearly articulate the organizational vision and goals and then trust their managers to execute on these goals within the construct of the strong matrix.

In more typical, hierarchical driven organizations, trust is important to organizational success and health; however, individual departments can still function together and deliver with only limited amounts of trust. In the strong matrix organization, because of the various touch points on employees and (on the surface) competing priority demands, trust is key. Project managers need to trust that line managers are developing their people and providing them with the best resources. Line managers need to trust that Project Managers are effectively deploying their staff so as to best maximize their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Remember, the line managers are on the hook (or should be) for staff retention, project managers are on the hook for effective, on time project delivery. The challenge, is trusting that all these seemingly competing demands come together to realize the greater organizational goals. Trust – it is the single greatest currency in the strong matrix driven organization. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.



Invest in those that invest in you…or something like that

I am not entirely sure this is the right title for this post, and this theme is a bit different than what I usually post, but here goes: It has been some time since I last posted on The Armchair HR Manager. I could come up with a ton of blogger excuses – work is too busy, too much stuff going on outside of work, it’s summer, etc., but most of that would be crap.

For those that know me well on a personal level, they know that I am a very private person, which I know is a bit strange considering my social media footprint. However, most of my social media time revolves around my professional brand, save for some fun I have on Instagram (check me out at hr_scottboulton). The real reason that I have been absent on the blogging front for the entire month of July is that I have been going through some challenges in my personal life. The beauty of these challenges is that it has opened my eyes to what is really important in life and what truly matters.

One of the things that has come to light during the past several months for me is the fabulous support network that I have. I mean, I always thought and felt I had great friends and family; however, the amount of support I have seen, felt and realized over the past few months has been overwhelming. I have always prided myself on building close, personal friendships over the years. While I have a large circle of ‘acquaintances’, I have maintained a smaller circle of close friends. In fact, many people I was friends with growing up, still remain some of my closest friends.

To that extent, I have always tried to “invest” in these friendships. This was done not with the intent of reaping some sort of benefit or anything from the friendship, but simply from a “give” perspective into the friendship so as to make it work. I feel you need to do that in order for a friendship to grow, develop and be maintained. Here is what I learned big time over the past few months – if you invest in those friendships, those true friends are there for you when you need them the most. The amount of support I have received from my “inner circle” over the past few months has been overwhelming to say the least. These are friends that have their own families and commitments but that make the time for you. These are friends that drop things on short notice to make you a priority and friends that shift their busy schedules and lives around on a moment’s notice to provide you the support you need…all without even being asked to do so.

I am sure I have neglected some of these friendships over the years. We all get busy in our lives and end up going separate ways; however this is an important life lesson for me. Keep investing in those friendships. Make time for each other. Don’t get too wrapped in your life and surviving the “daily grind.” Reach out to each other, check in and be present. Keep investing in those friendships and maintain your inner circle. If you are like me, those people are some of the most important humans in your life. As always, I welcome your comments.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com



It All Takes Time

Inherently, I am not a patient person. My mother reminds me of this all the time. She thinks it has something to do with the fact that I was born premature and that I had some burning desire to get on with life at an early age! Regardless, it is a character flaw that I am aware of and have worked hard on, especially professionally, to improve.

When I first got into HR, I wanted to set the world on fire with all my new ideas that involved developing and/or implement cutting edge HR programs and initiatives. Pretty quickly you realize that the real world doesn’t work that way and in fact, most of your “great ideas” are actually pretty stupid. At least looking back on mine, I can say that they were!

Time WatchAs I matured in my career, I learned to take more time to think things through and develop/recommend “things” that would lead to longer term gains and sustainability for the organizations that I worked for. To this day though, I still find it hard to cultivate and “wait” for the fruits of mine/our labour. When we do something that is aimed at improving retention, dammit, I want to see the results like, now!

So, because I know I carry this flaw around with me, I constantly focus on trying to be patient with the “growth” of great HR initiatives, mostly so I am not too quick to judge them as being successes or failures! So having said that, I think I am now qualified to advise younger HR practitioners on how/why they need to be patient with things because it all takes time!

Case in point with my current organization, we had identified 2+ years ago that an area we needed to focus on was employee recognition. Our survey feedback, focus groups, stay interviews, exit interviews and casual conversations all “told” us that recognition was important to our staff and that we needed to make improvements in this area. So, we set about to improve all things related to recognition. Initially, we made the mistake coming out of the gate by tackling this as a “program” or initiative. While we made some short term gains by doing it this way, it became obvious that the sustainability factor just wasn’t going to be there.

So, we ended going back to the problem as redefined it as being a need to shift our culture and our way thinking. Simply put, we needed to instill a culture of recognition throughout our entire organization. Easier said than done! As with any culture shift, it takes time…far more than this impatient guy was ever used to! However, we had a dedicated core group of believers that knew this was the right way to go and were emotionally invested in making the shift happen. Yes, it involved the development of “materials” to support this; however, the real change came about working directly with managers, providing training, constant communication with all employees and above else, accountability. We were all accountable for making this culture shift happen.

What is the moral of the story? For us HR folks, it is all about recognizing the problem at hand. Typically, the solution is not a new HR program or initiative. Quite likely, it is about changing attitudes, behaviours and culture. Programs and initiatives are quick, short term hits/wins. They feel good in the moment, like we have done something tangible, but they often have little sustainability. Culture shifts take a lot longer to achieve but the payoff is huge. Over two years has passed since we truly set about trying to make this culture change and we can now see it paying dividends as the needle has finally moved. Recognition HAS become part of our culture. Our employee surveys and retention data show this to be true. Do we need to continue to improve, adapt, adopt, modify and get better? You bet we do…it just takes time. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Niklas Rhose/Unsplash.com

Happy 2nd Blogiversary to me!

Wow, hard to believe another year has gone by at the Armchair HR Manager. As a (still) fairly new HR blogger, I have only been doing this for two years now; however, I am starting to find my sweet spot a bit. What started out as an exercise in capturing my thoughts and sharing lessons learned has now evolved into, I think, a somewhat respectable blog with a modest following….and for that I am very grateful. I have started to focus more on leadership challenges as well some specific HR and recruiting topics. This seems to have struck a (positive) chord with my readership.

2nd anniversaryOne of the things that I have found to be truly remarkable about the blogging experience and HR bloggers in general, is how supportive they are. I have found that most bloggers, regardless of their experience level, remember what those first few years of blogging were like and how difficult it is to make your mark. Instead of viewing new HR bloggers as ‘competition’, they have tended to provide support, inspiration and guidance and keep reminding me that I am not along…people really are reading my/our stuff!
At the very least, I have found the HR blogging community is not shy about challenging ideas and each other, albeit in a very respectful way. I have found that to be a great learning experience for me too. As I have gotten a bit bolder in my writing, and more adventuresome in where I share my thoughts, I have engaged with more and more people and have come to experience a greater diversity of perspectives from people who have read my blog and shared their thoughts with me. This truly has been one of the most remarkable and most positive aspects of blogging!

As I move into year three of this blogging journey, much like I did last year, I wanted to throw out a word of thanks (and a plug) for some folks who have helped me along this journey by providing me advice, guidance, inspiration, support or simply due to the fact that they ALWAYS take the time to share my content. For those I haven’t met in person, it is my sincerest hope that I will get the opportunity to meet some of you in the coming year(s). I also hope that you check out their blogs and what they have to say – you won’t be disappointed!

1) Jay Kuhns ( No Excuses HR) – Jay blogs about leadership and HR by providing bite size nuggets of instantly applicable information. Jay is the VP of HR at All Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida and blogs at NoExcusesHR. Jay continues to provide a lot of support to The Armchair HR Manager blog by sharing my content on a regular basis to his vast network. Jay is always supportive of his fellow HR bloggers and to the HR community in general.

2) Mike Lehr (Omega Z Advisors) – Mike provides great leadership and management advice on his blog over at Omega Z Advisors. Mike’s personal mission, in my opinion, is to help make better leaders of us all! Mike is an engaging writer who never hesitates to share content and provide commentary on what I write. Thanks for your support Mike!

3) Chris Fields (The Resume Crusade) – I have had the opportunity to correspond with Chris over the past year. Chris provides a lot of valuable advice to those in the job search process. He provides a lot of information on resumes, job searching and interviewing. If you are looking for a job or are thinking of making a move, you should check out his blog. If you need a resume done RIGHT – hire him to do that too!

4) Sabrina Baker (Acacia HR Solutions) – Sabrina is an HR consultant who works at, and writes, for her company, Acacia HR Solutions. Sabrina brings a ton of real world experience to her writing. If you are looking for HR advice or some great HR content, check out her blog. She provides a lot of practical advice and I appreciate that she takes the time to share my content too!

5) Careers in Government (Mike Hurwitz) – Mike and I started working together a few months back. One of my side writing gigs has been to provide some content for Mike’s Careers in Government site. They have a ton of relevant career information on their site so you should check them out. Mike has also been a supporter of The Armchair HR Manager as well and I appreciate that.

6) Brighter Life (Paul Gagliardi) – Paul and I began a partnership well over a year or so ago. Paul is in charge of content for one of Sun Life’s sites – Brighter Life.ca. They share some great posts on managing life and career challenges. Paul has been a big supporter of my blog and its content and I encourage everyone to check out BrighterLife for some great information!

7) Kevin Dee (Eagle Professional Resources) – Kevin is the CEO of the staffing firm Eagle Professional Resources. Kevin was an early adopter of many social media tools and has been blogging on his corporate site for many years. Kevin provides valuable advice on leadership, management and talent acquisition (as well as other topics). I encourage you to check out his blog – you won’t be disappointed.

I wanted to provide a big thank you to these seven, as well anyone else who has read and/or shared my writings from The Armchair HR Manager. I am looking forward to another year of blogging and continuing to engage with the HR blogging community as a whole.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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