Are you con­sid­er­ing A job with two man­agers?

Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT - PRISCILLA CLA­MAN Priscilla Cla­man is pres­i­dent of Ca­reer Strate­gies Inc, a Bos­ton-based firm of­fer­ing ca­reer coach­ing to in­di­vid­u­als and ca­reer man­age­ment ser­vices to or­gan­i­sa­tions.

If you’re in a job in­ter­view and hear the words “dot­ted-line re­port­ing”, you have just en­coun­tered the world of ma­trix man­age­ment. In th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures, you typ­i­cally have two bosses: a “straight-line” di­rect boss, who is the per­son who pre­pares your per­for­mance re­view and de­cides on your raise; and a “dot­ted-line” boss, who may also as­sign you work but has less con­trol over your re­view. It is easy to see how diff icult a job could be if your two bosses aren’t in agree­ment about your work or your abil­i­ties.

Since they orig­i­nated in the Six­ties and Seven­ties, ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tions have had a bad rap. They are of­ten ac­cused of be­ing overly bu­reau­cratic, stif ling freedom and ini­tia­tive. In a Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cle ti­tled Prob­lems of Ma­trix

Or­ga­ni­za­tions, Stan­ley M Davis and Paul R Lawrence ar­gue that this struc­ture causes all kinds of “patholo­gies” in­clud­ing: “ten­den­cies to­ward an­ar­chy, power strug­gles... navel-gaz­ing and de­ci­sion stran­gu­la­tion”.

But as Ruth Mal­loy of the Hay Group points out, more and more global or­gan­i­sa­tions are adopt­ing the ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tional model, so there’s a good c hance you’ l l en­counter it as you l ook for jobs. And there are good rea­sons why this model has be­come so com­mon. Ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tions keep their em­ploy­ees cus­tomer-fo­cused, whether the cus­tomer is in­ter­nal or ex ter­nal. For ex­am­ple, a divi­sional con­troller may re­port di­rectly to the chief f inan­cial of­fi­cer and on a dot­ted line to the vice pres­i­dent of the di­vi­sion, which en­sures that the con­troller knows what the in­ter­nal cus­tomer (the vice pres­i­dent) needs, as well as what the di­rect boss (the CFO) wants. Ma­tri­ces also pre­vent some parts of the or­gan­i­sa­tion from go­ing off on strate­gic tan­gents, which may re­sult in a prod­uct no one will buy or an in­ter­nal pol­icy t hat won’t be ac­cepted. Ma­trix re­port­ing sys­tems are de­signed to keep peo­ple work­ing to­gether and not at cross-pur­poses.

Jobs with ma­trix-re­port­ing re­la­tion­ships are not gen­er­ally en­trylevel pro­fes­sional po­si­tions. Th­ese re­la­tion­ships oc­cur fre­quently in jobs with in­ter­nal cus­tomers, like hu­man re­sources gen­er­al­ists, fa­cil­ity man­agers or busi­ness sys­tems an­a­lysts in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

But po­si­tions that re­quire a strong re­la­tion­ship with out­side cus­tomers, l ike ac­count man­agers for ma­jor cor­po­rate clients, may also re­quire client ap­proval and in­put when you are hired and when your per­for­mance is re­viewed. If you are able to bal­ance more than one man­ager, you stand to ben­e­fit from work­ing for a ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tion. How else would you get the op­por­tu­nity to get to know t wo man­agers who are se­nior to you, de­velop a net­work of col­leagues in two dif­fer­ent ar­eas of your com- pany and have the chance to learn and grow in two dif­fer­ent ar­eas at the same time? It cer­tainly worked for me. I was a s enior hu­man re­sources gen­er­al­ist re­port­ing to the vice pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources, and my dot­ted-line boss was the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent in charge of most of the rest of the bank. He re­ally liked me, so with my as­sent, he man­aged to ar­range for me to work di­rectly for him with a big raise and a fancy ti­tle.

To suc­cess­fully man­age your own ca­reer in a ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tion, it ’s im­por­tant to make sure your man­agers are aligned and can work with you with­out com­pet­ing with each other. Get­ting caught in the mid­dle might cost you your job. Make sure it doesn’t by ask­ing some es­sen­tial ques­tions up front, even in the in­ter­view process.


Dur­ing the in­ter­view with both man­agers, ask some­thing like: “In my first 30 days in this job, what are the most im­por­tant things for me to ac­com­plish?” If they have dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties that is a prob­lem to solve with your di­rect boss be­fore you ac­cept the posit ion. T hey won’t al­ways agree, but if they have sim­i­lar goa ls, you should be able to man­age your re­la­tion­ship wit h both of them.


An­other clue to your fu­ture suc­cess is the at­ti­tude one depart­ment has about the other. Try ask­ing each po­ten­tial man­ager: “What are the peo­ple l ike who work there?” or “How have you worked best with them in the past? Can you give me an ex­am­ple?” In this case, the in­for­ma­tion you want is not so much in the con­tent of the an­swer, but in the at­ti­tude and lan­guage of the boss you are talk­ing to. If you get any whiff of “us ver­sus them”, that’s a bad sign.


Both man­agers have to be co­op­er­a­tive for you to be suc­cess­ful on the job. Lis­ten to how each talks, not just what each says. Do they talk about them­selves all the time? Are they al­ways say­ing “I” and never “we”? Never mind if they talk about team­work or cus­tomer ser­vice. Do they ac­tu­ally act as if they do it?

The em­ploy­ment re­la­tion­ship starts with the in­ter­view, for good or for ill. This is par­tic­u­larly true in ma­trix or­gan­i­sa­tions. If you get along great with one man­ager in the in­ter­view but f ind the other hard to re­late to, that may be a prob­lem that will per­sist. As a job can­di­date, it’s up to you to as­sess in the ini­tial stages of the in­ter­view process whether you will be suc­cess­ful work­ing in this or­gan­i­sa­tion and, in par­tic­u­lar, for th­ese two peo­ple.

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