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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.



The Top 3 Skills for the HR Professional

Because many of us are so involved with coaching, counseling and advising others we rarely take enough time for self-reflection. For many of us HR Pros, especially the generalists, we are often involved with working with our operations partners on advising on training and development courses for their employees. The gap, which I have found over the years, is that HR professionals rarely take enough to identify their own development needs so that they can focus on enhancing their skill sets. Additionally, I am often asked by Jr. Practitioners and students, as to what the key skills are that HR folks should have.

Human Resources DevelopmentThe challenge is that many of us are so focused on keeping our “HR knowledge” up to speed we sometimes lose site of the core general business skills that would be critical to our success. Often the first thing that comes to mind for HR folks is to make sure their knowledge of relevant legislation and employment law stays up to date. While that is important, I don’t so much look at that as a skill set per se as I do a knowledge base. So what are the key areas that HR pros should be focusing on? Based on my experience, and in my opinion, here are the most important skills that should be developed and maintained by HR Professionals:

1. Negotiating skills – having the ability to be a strong negotiator helps in so many facets of the HR world. For those involved with labour relations and collective agreements this is a no brainer! But think about the broader application of this skill for a minute. For recruiters, it pretty much encapsulates at least 50% of the job description. It starts with negotiating with a hiring manager on job requisition timelines and requirements and then continues on with candidate interaction. Recruiters negotiate starting salaries, signing bonuses, benefit waiting periods, start dates, etc. Really, a huge chunk of their time is spent negotiating! For other HR professionals, because a huge part of what we do is project based, we negotiate on timelines/deadlines, the need for (additional) resources, etc. That is why this skill set has to be developed to be a solid HR pro.

2. Project Management skills – with the ever increasing move by organizations to either outsource admin related functions and/or carve out in-house “centres of excellence”, the work of the business level HR pro has become very much project driven. The projects can run the gamut from developing a mentorship program, implementing a new performance management system or selecting and implementing a new HRIS. Either way, the ability to plan, organize, lead and manage a project so that it is on time, on budget and on target is a critical skill set for HR professionals. So order to enhance this skill set, either take a course in project management or find a way to job shadow a strong project manager. Learn about GANTT charts, PERT, CPM, RACI charts, etc. Be able to estimate time and costs during your project planning stages. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is all the new language of HR!

3. Presentation/Public speaking skills – developing and/or enhancing these skills is critical. More and more HR pros are being asked to present to management teams, boards of directors or even industry groups on various matters. Whether it is reporting on workforce trends that are impacting your business, updating the team on your current project (see #2) or perhaps you are speaking to colleges, universities or trade associations on preparing them to enter the workforce, the ability to present/speak in public is critical to your success. These skills are also valuable if you are ever asked to speak at conferences, trade shows, government events, etc. HR pros are being asked for their input and vision on a greater number of topics every year and the ability to craft a persuasive/informative presentation and articulate your key message(s) to a group of people is a critical skill set that HR pros should have.

I realize this is a very short list but I think that if you were to focus on developing/improving even just one of these skills over the next year, it would put you ahead of many of your peers. These are skills that are lacking in the repertoire of many HR Professionals and we all can use more development (focus) in these areas. Let’s all work together as an HR community in continuing to elevate our skills and our profession. What have I missed? Is there anything else that should be added to the list? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone is talking about it – Communications

It’s very much like the weather. It seems to me that we all know what the problem is. For example: we all rely on e-mail more than we should. Blackberry’s are an everyday conversation-killer. So what is the alternative? Why can’t we just go ahead and fix the problem? Maybe what we need are some simple, straightforward concepts to get us focused on what needs to change to make things better….sort of a positive look at things instead of merely complaining.
Two speakers at the recent PMI conference in St.John’s, Newfoundland did exactly that.
The following are some simple communication tips provided to those in attendance for the purpose of helping us improve our communication skills.
1) Don’t let technology get in the way – nothing trumps regular face-to-face meetings. If you send an e-mail to someone in the next cubical, you are doing it wrong. Think about what your communication goal is before you hit send or load up your favourite PowerPoint template. If you need to put complex information in front of a group of people to get them to understand some new concept, maybe you should e-mail a briefing package that has all the data in it prior to the presentation so people can understand your presentation better. Slides full of text that you paraphrase or even worse, read word-for-word (ugh) add no value. Apparently Steve Jobs believed in this adage, and would walk out of presentations as soon as PowerPoint was started up.
2) Understand adult diversity – different people prefer different communication styles. Some people are visual and want to see high-level info-graphics or graphs that summarize the data. Other people want to have ALL the background data and will need to have a briefing package to get them engaged during your presentation. Other people may prefer to simply ask questions and talk to you. What may seem like a perfect presentation package to you, could be completely dismissed by parts of your audience because the medium was wrong….not because of your message. Mix your media and know your audience.
3) Consult early to get engagement – during the conference we did a very interesting interactive exercise during one presentation (I’m a big fan of these by the way). The speaker asked what topics should be covered in next year’s PMI conferences? Groups were formed, ideas were listed and we all voted on the top three. The outcomes were:
a) The organizers had a list of 20+ potential topics generated by people that actually attend these conferences.
b) The organizers could identify potential presenters as they were the people that brought forward the ideas and/or voted for them.
c) Everyone that participated was far more interested in seeing what next year’s line-up of topics was going to be than they were mere minutes before.
The group was not asked when the next conference would be, what the venue would be or how much the conference would cost.
Bottom Line: It all took about 15 minutes.
Consultation does not have to be a protracted, complex or expensive exercise. The analysis of results does not have to take weeks. An excellent ROI is possible even if you only consult a small, targeted group on a limited number of very specific issues. I find it wonderful that engagement is the most valuable outcome and yet is merely a by-product of the exercise. People do not respond to “get engaged now” directives.
4) Keep it as simple as you can but no simpler – complexity does not necessarily add clarity. Summarizing too much may obscure an important subtlety in your message. Keep your “anchor narrative” compact and easy to understand then make sure all of your communication is in alignment with it. Start by answering “why” not “how” or “what”. You need to clearly state what the objective of your communication is up front to engage your audience before you launch into a monologue on what needs to be done. Starting with “I need you to help me implement this change and make it part of our culture because it will make our company better.” vs. “You now need to fill in this form and send it to that person every time you ….” Just think about all the e-mails you have had to read 3 times just to figure out if it was relevant to anything you were doing.
5) Don’t wait for perfection – if perfection is the enemy of momentum, communication is its BFF. Professional communicators are telling us that we’re all adults and we will get over it if the message changes a bit as time goes on. What we don’t like is when a mass of data is suddenly dropped on top of us and we are all expected to understand it or change direction instantly.
6) Keep it human – talk to people, schedule meetings when people are alert, provide coffee + healthy snacks during meetings, say “thanks”, tell people when their contribution has made a difference. When it’s deserved, judicious and genuine, compliments like “you nailed that” or “couldn’t have done this without you” can make a person’s day. Remind yourself that it’s not just business – we’re dealing with people.
7) Walk the talk – practice what you preach. If this is not self-evident, I apologize for wasting your time.
Today’s guest blog post was from John Volc, P.Eng., PMP. John is a Professional Engineer (Naval Architect) with over 30 years industry experience. You can find out more about John at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jvolc

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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