Best Practices

Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution in a Matrix Organization

Jonathan Friedman
May 8, 2021
Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution in a Matrix Organization

Want to hear something scary? Over 55% of employees in a matrix organization are disengaged from their jobs. These detached feelings can be solved one way: through effective strategy execution. Strategies that meaningfully impact your entire organization are challenging. 

From diagnosing the root problems of employee detachment in your company to solving competency gaps through strong leadership, we've created a solid blueprint to execute your leadership vision successfully. 

When you're finished with this article, you'll have an exact checklist of actions required to ensure a successful strategy execution. This includes:

By achieving a balance between being a great strategist and a great executor, you'll have achieved a blend that few leaders achieve. Being great at both is something few leaders can do, so you'll be a step ahead of the pack. 

Restructuring won't solve the matrix 

When executing your leadership strategy, restructuring won't help. It's a cop-out corporate solution. Worse, it's the sort of move that makes small startups mock bureaucratic red tape that often bogs down matrix organizations

Think about it this way. You've realized that the current strategies to run your matrix organization aren't working. 

Revenue is down. Employees are leaving or unmotivated. There are too many managers, too many direct reports, too much time wasted on reports, and too little time spent on work. 

Decisions are stalled. Parts aren't coming in. 

It's a common problem. But restructuring is simply a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound. Restructuring usually involves consolidation, cutting managers, and reshuffling departments like a deck of cards. 

However, there are root issues that cause disengagement. Trading out one manager for another won't, in most cases, solve it. 

Symptoms of disengagement

The root issues of disengagement look like this: 

These are all symptoms that translate into a more significant disease. These feelings manifest as many things, but lost dollar signs are one of them. 

Disengagement manifests itself by: 

All of these actions cost your company a great deal of money. What's the reason? Most often, disengagement simply boils down to poor strategy execution. 

What's the golden ticket, then? Collaboration and clarity. 

Who's responsible for that?

When criticizing clarity issues, critics of business strategies like matrix structures cite this as the main issue. No one's responsible when things go wrong. And when something goes right, everyone's hand is raised to take credit. 

Unfortunately, this is sometimes true. This factor is a massive driver for disengagement. 

A blurry sense of what responsibilities belong to who is incredibly demotivating. Morale takes a significant hit when no one can be individually proud of their work. 

It also prevents the refrain: "that isn't my job!" Sometimes, especially when it comes to business metrics such as revenue, it's no one's fault. The buck is passed to the CEO. 

For any company, but particularly for sprawling global enterprises, this is incredibly ineffective. 

Therefore, restructuring departments is no way to tackle this problem. A healthy organization's measure ensures that employees understand how each task impacts the company's goals and bottom line. 

Being vague isn't helpful. Understanding what success looks like and answering the question 'what does good look like' is crucial to develop a strategy

Everyone loves group projects 

Collaboration. Whether employees achieved a college degree or a graduate degree, most people have at least one horror story to share regarding the infamous group project. 

Someone not carrying their weight. An inability to get everyone together at one date and time. Someone is turning in their poorly written piece of the project ten minutes before presentation time. 

We've all been there. And as an educational experience that was supposed to train us to participate in real-world business strategies, it certainly did an abysmal job. 

If that experience wasn't enough to completely sour you on the power of collaboration, take heart! 

Conflicting messages will cost you 

Here's one of the key benefits of collaboration: messages don't conflict. If you're developing a new product, sharing developments across all aspects will be crucial. 

If teams collaborate, information is shared cross-functionally. If teams work remotely due to COVID-19 or other reasons, this could make or break a project. No one is left in the dark. 

Don't leave anyone behind

Making sure there is transparency and everyone has visibility into what everyone is working on is another reason collaboration matters. Sometimes, even if they're in the same building, one department has no idea what another is doing. 

That means essential managers are often left out of the decision-making process. Departments also feel divorced from each other, making it difficult to connect and brainstorm on different strategic initiatives

Own your strategy execution 

You've taken the first two steps. Firstly, you recognized that a problem existed in your matrix organization and conducted an audit to identify symptoms and issues. 

Secondly, you recognized the power of collaboration and clarity to help rectify these issues. Now what?

It's time to get into the nitty-gritty of strategy execution secrets. 

Individuals matter 

If you walk into your building, what are the chances you know the names of every employee? What are the names of their spouse and children? 

Depending on how large your organization is, the answer could be pretty disheartening. And if employees feel like a faceless cog in the company's machine, they certainly won't be very attached to their work results. 

Your strategy starts with engaging employees to make decisions, display ambition, and boost their department to greater heights. 

That starts with motivating them. And no, that doesn't mean promising a spa gift card to the highest performing salesperson of the quarter. 

While everyone loves a day to treat themselves, you can do more. What problem does your company exist to solve? How is it contributing to the greater good?

If you have a concrete answer to these questions, that's great! But is your company living it out in a demonstrable way that employees can see?

It's like raising children. They pick up far more on actions than words. So all the fancy adjectives in your company's About Us section won't convince them if there's hypocrisy afoot.

Make sure each employee knows what your company stands for. That's one big step to connecting everyday tasks to a more excellent, motivational vision. 

A five-star review 

When employees know what the company stands for, roles can shift and meld at the drop of a hat. Of course, that's an inherent problem that needs tackling. But even after responsibilities are clearly defined, it still happens. 

That's why individual performance reviews are so critical. To accomplish this, consider what the company's broader goals are. What's a reasonable expectation for an individual in their specific department to contribute to these goals? 

One of the main features of capitalism is that it, in its' best form, rewards individual effort. In an ideal society, everyone's action would be rewarded fairly. 

If an employee knows they'll be lumped in with everyone else, it's demoralizing. Low and high performers alike will impact their 'score.' It doesn't seem to matter how hard they try. 

That's not true! And it's up to you, whether you're managing a department or the entire organization, to demonstrate this. 

High performers need visible results. Maybe this is better pay, a promotion, or the opportunity to take on the project of their dreams. Effort equals positive results, and this should be prominently demonstrated in your organization. 

Done is better than perfect

Have you ever heard this saying before? If you're a perfectionist, it may be a little painful to hear. But it's true if you want to achieve positive results! 

Even more importantly, it's a statement that many employees live by. In an important survey, employees at 3 out of 5 companies rated their companies as poor at execution. 

Poor strategy execution means many things. In this case, it means slow, ineffectual, and incapable. In situations where your company should be able to respond with the grace and urgency of a 9-1-1 responder, the patient is dead before you even pick up the phone. 

Seeing incompetent management can breed resentment and distrust. How can business organizations fix this? By prioritizing agility. 

No matter how broad and massive an organization is, it should be capable of agile response. If not, it's a sign that the company has clumsily overextended itself. 

Agility means empowering employees to make decisions. If they're capable, well-educated, and trustworthy, let them make choices. Stop looking over their shoulder. 

Each dollar spent on a pencil doesn't need to be run by a manager. This can create a bottleneck that paralyzes your company. This prevents skillful execution. 

Agility also means that the scope is narrowed down. One manager isn't responsible for the success of the entire company. This also means that the CEO isn't responsible for a massive bottleneck, either. 

Leadership matters 

If you've been part of a corporate business organization for any length of time as a leader, then you've 'heard it all.' 

Being a leader is pounded into employees at all levels. Be the leader of your own life. Be the leader of your team. Be the bigger person.

Why all the fuss? Because the most successful leaders possess four key traits that help any company flourish. 

If employees on all levels exhibit these traits, companies will rocket to new heights. Unfortunately, these four traits are in short supply, according to emotional intelligence tests. 

  1. Empathy 
  2. Conflict management 
  3. Influence 
  4. Self-awareness 

It doesn't sound that difficult, does it? Try acting it out! 

The advantages of empathy in conflict management

Being sympathetic is part of citizenship in a civilized society. Even if you never met your coworker's mom, it's still polite to sign a card when she passes. 

Being empathetic is something more. It means that you're able to mentally and emotionally put yourself in someone else's shoes. 

Empathy is all about asking questions and having the emotional intelligence to gather honest answers. 

Why did they act that way? What is the root cause of this behavior? What would motivate this person on an individual level?

When crafting a successful strategy execution, empathy is best used professionally as a tool for conflict resolution. 

Empathy builds trust. And trust is what matrix organizations rely on. 

When you're using empathy to resolve conflict, avoid the urge to pull rank. Just because you have power doesn't necessarily mean you should use it. Persuasion is everything. 

There is a time and place for punitive measures. For most issues, though, avoid the urge to escalate problems. 

The chain of command exists for a reason, of course. But if you can resolve the conflict yourself, do it! This builds trust and erases any perceptions that you'll 'tattle' on employees as soon as trouble starts brewing. 

Avoid coming down hard. This can be tempting, especially if you're short on time and have the rank to do so. Remember the old saying—you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

Influence and self-awareness 

As a leader, you wield an immense amount of power over the lives of your employees. What's the number one reason for quitting a job? It's rarely the work itself. Often, it's a bad boss that they could no longer tolerate. 

This is your chance to embody Spider-Man - remember the 'with great power comes great responsibility' mantra. 

To positively influence people, you have to listen to them. And that starts with asking bold questions. Questions you may not want to hear the answer to, questions that people might feel shy about answering honestly. These are the questions that unearth what's holding your organization back. 

Ask the questions you may ask other managers or senior employees. Ask for their opinion. What's one thing you think management is doing wrong? What frustrates you most about your daily job? 

These types of questions build a two-way street of communication. Many organizations promise it, but few deliver on it. 

When you start listening to people's frustrations, you can figure out how to best influence them. You can communicate better with them. 

To honestly do this, though, self-awareness is key. As a leader trying to implement new management strategies successfully, hypocrisy must be avoided at all costs. 

What does this mean? You need to identify competency gaps in yourself, too. Sometimes this will point to more significant cracks that are threatening the organization's foundation as well. 

Implementing big changes 

You've gathered up the emotional tools in your box, avoided common pitfalls such as restructuring, and you're ready to tackle the world. What now?

It's time to shake up the way you communicate. Chances are, if you asked people what frustrates them regularly, at least one person said it. Meetings. 

No matter how many refreshments are placed on the conference room table, it's hard to get anyone excited about them. At best, they're mildly productive. At worst, they're a frustrating distraction and a temptation to nap. 

This is a hard truth that many organizations have learned during the pandemic. With the inability to gather everyone in the same physical space, companies switched to Zoom. 

Then, it happened. Everyone's calendars were filling up with Zoom meetings. With the need to entertain children and put pets in another room, meetings were becoming even more frustrating than usual. 

The takeaway? Most meetings really can be boiled down to a simple email. 

Driving change means shaking up communication. There are many tools available to help you do this—Slack, Zoom, Notion, TrueNxus, Jira. There are so many platforms to track progress, assign tasks to team members, and communicate with each other remotely. 

Embracing diversity 

When communicating with your team, identifying gaps is the first part of a successful strategy execution. Until you know what the problem is and what you're missing, you won't know what good looks like. 

Depending on your company, one of those gaps might exist in the team itself. Bringing new perspectives and life experiences to the table is crucial. If not, you're missing out on a world of talent that could revolutionize your company. 

Diversifying teams has become a bigger corporate priority in recent years. But if you're serious about luring the best people that will solve problems in your organization, there's still a very long way to go.

Find those gaps 

Diversity is undoubtedly a standard gap on the broader organizational level. But what about gaps on the individual level? 

This is where periodic reviews come in. How is the department performing? What about the team or each employee? 

Depending on the profession, performance reviews should highlight a few common areas. These include work product, performance, and relationships with other team members. 

For instance, you could have the most brilliant coder in San Francisco on your team. But what if they're a miserable person to work with? That's a substantial interpersonal gap that should be a significant issue highlight on their performance review. 

Sometimes, though, the gaps aren't the employee's fault. They're a reflection of how they've been lost in the organizational funnel. 

For instance, some competency gaps are leadership-based. 

Employees aren't taking charge of situations, projects, or problems. 

What's the solution? Consider rotating assignments. If you're trying to build the next generation of leaders, this is a tool that you can't afford to ignore. 

Sometimes, when you're onboarding a new employee, you allow them to shadow across various departments. Even if a department doesn't directly connect to the work that an employee will be doing, it's still a valuable experience. 

Try this approach with established employees! Of course, avoid wasting their time by having them sit and do nothing but observe. But don't be shy about allowing them to do their work by collaborating across different organization sections. 

Secrets of successful strategy execution 

What's the biggest secret when it comes to strategies? It's all about behavior. 

That's right. The traits you choose to embody and the traits prioritized by your organization have an incredible trickle-down effect. Empathy and conflict management are traits that help inform concrete decisions. 

Once you've nailed down your values, everything else flows from there. Establishing diverse teams, providing rotating assignments, and having a reliable roadmap to address conflict is what provides strategies for the future. 

Taking the time to conduct a painfully honest analysis will pay off. If you're looking at your matrix organization with the most judgmental eye, what problems would you see? Where is the structure failing? 

To avoid overlap and a lack of clarity, each part of your strategy execution should be integral. All the parts rely on each other.

In other words, if you remove one block, London Bridge comes tumbling down. This will also help improve agility and speed up response times.

Due to their very nature, matrix organizations are a complex beast to tame. However, remember why you tackled the matrix in the first place. They're a fertile ground to save money, solve big problems globally, and make the most of interpersonal relationships.

So, if you're ready improve your strategy execution in a matrix organization, leverage our tips within this article and start using TrueNxus, the only online cross-functional collaboration platform built for strategy execution.

Sign up here for our free two-week trial.