Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Change: the only option!

Same time, last week, I was invited to speak on Matrix Structure in one Globalization conference. While working on my brief, some stray thoughts came to my mind and I’ve tried to capture those below.

Despite working in modern day globalised businesses, old memories continue. E.g. things that we learnt during the post grad management programme, way back in early 80’s—that not only belong to the last century but also to the last millennium!

I often times wonder, how some of the theories and principles that sounded so convincingly eternal then, have almost become ancient, sometimes irrelevant and sometimes even extinct! The principle of ‘unity of command’ is an example that comes to my mind easily. Fayol, the doyen of classical school of management, while calling out 14 principles of management, had ‘unity of command’ as one of those. In his time and in his way, Fayol was absolutely right in mandating that each employee must have one and only one boss. If one looks at how he saw a manager’s job, this principle becomes even clearer. According to him, the manager had the following 5 components in his job.
• Planning
• Organising
• Commanding
• Co-ordinating
• Controlling

The above introduction is sufficient to set the context for our current discussion. A closer scrutiny into these components of a manager’s job leads us to a conclusion that the managerial role was conceived around the task accomplishment in a systematic way. Taylor, in a way Fayol’s contemporary, also took a similar position while explaining his ‘scientific management.’ Going by Fayol’s work, we do not get any indication that he had ‘people orientation’ in his conception of a typical managerial role. Principle of ‘unity of command,’ therefore, made great sense, given that, in the industrial organizations of that era, there existed two types (or classes?) of people--those who did the actual work (workers) and those who got the work done (managers). There is another important background we have to bear in mind, while understanding and appreciating why ‘unity of command’ was so important those days. And that is, many of the management concepts then, actually evolved out of best practices in people management within military organizations. Therefore, some other principles out of Fayol’s 14 principles also indicate such influence. Authority, discipline, sub–ordination of individual interest, scalar chain (line of authority), and order are examples of some of those principles.

All the above happened roughly 100 years ago and ruled almost 80% of the last century, if not more, in some specific parts of the world. But global organizations today speak a different language, follow different norms and work on different set of principles.

So, what has caused this change?

Essentially, the organizations have spread their existence across countries and continents, cultures, time-zones etc. In addition, the employees have graduated to demand more functional autonomy within their responsibility boundaries—in short they are relatively more empowered and strive for even more of it. On the other hand, ‘managers’ of yester-era are evolving into ‘leaders.’ Although, much has been said, written and is being discussed about a difference between a manager and a leader, to my mind, the key difference is, that while a manager has a great ability to control things in his immediate sphere of influence, a leader is constantly in the process of challenging the existing spheres and looks beyond the obvious – an essential quality that has emerged for the global business builders. None other than Peter Drucker, had sensed this pretty early, when he said that the managers’ job was not to merely manage people but it was to lead people and the managers’ goal was to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual within their organizations.

'Unity of command’ was great when the businesses were local, direct supervision was feasible and in any case, manager’s job then was essentially to ensure task delivery from the group of workers they managed. Therefore, the system which was created around command and order principles has given way to the one that follows delegation and empowerment as new mantras.

All this has had a major structural imperative for today’s global corporations—which has given rise to the modern day ‘matrix organizations.’

For ease of explanation: The genesis of a matrix structure lies in its resemblance to a table (matrix) where each item in a table is an integral part of both, the rows and the columns. Now consider each item in the table as an employee, who has linkages at both levels—rows and columns. Therefore, matrix style of management is one where an individual has two reporting bosses - one functional and one operational—in complete subversion of ‘unity of command!’

Now let’s take just one example of why such structures have become inevitable. ABC Corporation is a large global company headquartered in the US and does business and has its employees based in about 75 countries in the world. It’s CFO for India reports administratively to the CEO of India and functionally to the Vice President- Finance in regional headquarters in Singapore.

Since this article has a limited purpose, I’m not getting into the intricacies of a matrix organization. Yet, the conclusion is obvious: what needs to change must change as per times—else the forces of change will anyway make that happen!


Deepak said...

Dear Abhay,

From Manager to Leader – as you rightly stated, this change is the only option to be successful in this environment of globalization. This change in the leadership paradigm from the COP (control, order, predict) to ACE (align, create, evolve) is not only inevitable but else the forces of change will anyway make that happen! Hope many Managers realize this and rapidly make this transition towards becoming Leaders as otherwise their worth will go waste. We see many examples around and feel pity.

Deepak Pande

Nitin Deshpande said...


Well said. One point that comes to my mind is that org chart tools still do not have a good way of showing the matrix relationship. Some people talk about solid line reporting vs. dotted line reporting. However, what really works well is that both lines are solid and the two managers collaborate and synch up frequently so as not to confuse the employee being managed. I have not seen any tool that allows this. Even the HRMS systems, the Performance Management tools and such others ususally fail at capturing this correctly. People find workarounds to get the "dotted line" input into the tool, but that is usually a poor compromise. As HR professionals, we need to push the tool vendors to build tools that recognize this fact.

Abhay Valsangkar said...


Thanks for your comments. Extremely valid.

You make a very good point that we should push the tool vendors to deliver tools that address real business needs of the global corporations.

I also agree with you that time has come to even boldly accept two solid lines as a new reality.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Hi Deepak,

You picked-up the crux!


Abhay Valsangkar said...


Thanks for your response.

Good points and very relevant as well.

However, today's business oraganisations need to re-orient to today's global business demands--that's why some older priciples need to be either replaced or evolved to address current realities.


From: Rakesh Prasad Chaturvedi

Thanks Abhay, for re-igniting the debate on relevance of 'Principals'.
Do then the Principals need to change or their application reoriented? The Principles of War have existed for ages. Yet, they are applied today, even though the nature and tools of war have changed beyond recognition.
Particular to the topic at hand- Unity of Command. I would hate to be in a car that had two or more people holding the steering. Command, and hence the accountability should ideally lie with one person. True, increasing delegation requied due to nature of operations / functioning call for refining the application of this principle, but then accountability, manifest in the level at which 'Unity of Command' is fixed,must rest in one person. To that extent the need for ONE Prime Minister, One MD and so on. And ofcourse, One conductor, no matter how large the orchestra.

With Warm Regards,
Col RP Chaturvedi

Abhay Valsangkar said...


Thanks for your timely response, as always.

Frankly, I just went and presented my thoughts based on my experience and knowledge(must modestly admit that both are fairly limited).

However, I'm aware that there is plenty of material available on the net.

If you are looking for something very specific,pls let me know.


From: B Kul [mailto:bkul@live.com]


Thanks for a thoughtful post (BAU with Mr. Valsangkar).

It is a great co-incidence I am working on a project to develop a matrix structure for a globally dispersed team. do you have any documents (like the presentation you made at the globalization conference you allude to in your blog) or some links that will tell more about the subject?


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Dear Anantrao,

You raise some interesting questions.

In my own way, when I look at the theory and practice of management, it clearly comes across to me as 'applied social scinece.' It is as much a science as any other social science say e.g Economics or Political Science. It is and can't ever be a perfect science like say Physics or Chemistry.

On your point about making something meanigful deliverable out of these thoughts:yes, we should work towards it.

Thanks for your prompt response, as always.


From: anant tope [mailto:ananttope@hotmail.com]

Dear Abhayji,

This was some thing I was waiting for..because you had given a very enchanting preamble the other day and I was simply fascinated by the very concept. Please enlighten me on the following thoughts.

.Management is it SCIENCE or an ART?

I have tried to respond myself to this.Frankly, there was no reason for me to think about it till I read your blog.

If we consider it as science then firstly I need to define what science is.


Applying the above definition , management looks A SCIENCE perfect . Simultaneously the controversies arise in the mind such as if it is science then the fundamentals do not and can not change over centuries. The second controversy is in science, for a given experiment, there are similar observations and similar inferences no matter who conducts the experiment . Where as going by your thought process on MATRIX, the fundas of the millinium have changed and soon, the revolution on the changed principles would follow.The organizations who are sensitive to the change have adopted and have started reaping the benefits.Obviously, being the earliest birds to fly shall be the first to reach the destination.

If management is Science, then will be imperfect science? If it is imperfect then it can not be called as science though it fits in to the definition. By any means , to me, it doesn't look like an art because the process of management that we have learnt over 80 years is scientific because, any body who passes thru the process would eventually achieve the intended end results.

Hope, you would enlighten me.

Nevertheless, I was trying to apply the matrix to different management levels and honestly, the revelations and the ramifications are simply amazing. It is like you know, any two bodies in the universe have either a force of attraction or a force of repulsion which is product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance separating them.

You are capable of embarking upon a fully measurable formula which would get applied at all levels of management but THE YARDSTICK / PARAMETERS would be defined by you. It would be this aspect which will cut the ice and shall add value to the organization to whom you shall render the services.

Please generate a work Shop module on this and the POTENTIAL is immense to succeed. The beauty would be, even after another 10 years, the concept for the world would still be in infancy. I shall be fortunate to be a part of your organization ( For me you have already taken a decision to that effect )and be a part of the new CHANGE.

Thanks again and Regards,


Amit Mardikar said...

Thanks for a great note on the necessity of Matrix organization. So the inquisitive minds want to know how to embrace it or even how best to navigate and make the most of this structure?

How does an organization build a necklace out of gems across generations where some of the gems actually grew up in a straight line "un-dotted" organization, with some of the newer gems that know no other structure?


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Amit...Thanks. Sub-structures and systems will have to be retuned in alignment with the new organisation structure..e.g. the performance management system will have to clearly take inputs from two people(bosses) than the way it was conventionally done..another example could be how internal communications are handled in the new reality--a need to make joint communications co-initiated by the biz head and the geography head etc.
For those sticking to older ways will have to be trained/cajoled to fall in line with the emerging realities--else,they won't survive!