Are you considering A job with two managers?
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.
ARE YOUR MANAGERS ALIGNED?
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.
WHAT ARE THEIR PERCEPTIONS OF EACH OTHER?
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.
WHAT’S THE GENERAL ATTITUDE TOWARD COLLABORATION?
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.