Jack into the Matrix

Matrix management is one of those foolish notions that completely ignore human nature. Sort of like Al Gore’s “reinventing government” initiative back when he was Bubba’s veep. Hey, they had to find something to keep his busy little mind going, didn’t they?

All sorts of claims are made about matrix management: how it allows experts in a given area to spread the wealth of their knowledge around. How several projects can benefit from such expertise, rather than keeping it bottled up in only one group or project.

Sounds great. There is one flaw, however. And it’s a fatal flaw: accountability for actual performance goes down the memory hole. The expert who is matrixed and put in charge of a matrixed group of workers has no real authority. He has no way to punish poor performance, or reward good performance. He has “input” into performance appraisals and reviews. He approves nothing.

Now, if someone in a matrix management scheme is given approval authority over things like raises and promotions (as opposed to pretty plaques and other worthless crap), then that company or organization is doomed to failure. Let’s put it this way: if everyone is in charge, no one’s in charge. And no one is accountable.

Then there’s the worker-bee side of the equation. How responsive are you going to be to someone who does not hold the power of the purse, meaning your actual future salary? Yes, if you’re conscientious and ethical you’ll do your best at any task you’re given. Great. Then there’s the other 90% of humanity.

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