The Challenge of Matrix Management and Brand Management

For those who were intrigued by cinema’s The Matrix trilogy, a civilization with two separate worlds constantly coming into contact–illusionary or not–with one another in master and servant, virtual and real interaction is not so far off from the requirements of modern organizational matrix management. Just as the world is evolving, forcing brands to adopt new ideas and adapt to emerging problematic situations, global marketing has evolved organizationally. As previously discussed, global organizational alignment has its challenges. These are particularly apparent in a global matrix organization.

Many people feel matrix organizations lack accountability. These structures confuse rather than clarify responsibilities. In some organizations, the “org charts” and the “RACI” charts defining “Who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who is Consulted, and who is Informed” are incomprehensible. Understanding how to manage with these RACI charts usually requires at least one or two workshops with table exercises and multiple presentations, overnight homework, and outside facilitators. RACI charts contribute to ever more confusion.

Yet, matrix management is a marketing fact of life. As complex as it is, matrix management is becoming the current reality because it is the best way to achieve effective collaboration to achieve common goals. Matrix management is a business reality. Sometimes people say they cannot manage what does not report to them. They are uncomfortable managing in a matrix world. Those people who say these things are correct; this is not a situation for them.

Matrix management is difficult and complex. To some it is a hurdle to climbing the corporate ladder. And for others, it is a good place to hide while others fight it out for supremacy. In an organizational setting, the matrix is not an illusion; it is not meant to stymie ambition or stalemate (or even checkmate) decision-making. The matrix is not the problem. How to manage brands in a matrix management world is.

The matrix is designed to array all the interlocking functions into a cohesive, collaborative system that allows for strength in the regions as well as from the center. In the matrix world, the central brand managers often complain that they cannot manage what they do not control. They complain that they do not have the resources to implement their ideas because the resources reside in the local markets. In the center, people do not trust the local capabilities to follow the script. They are right and wrong at the same time. Different organizational functions want to be left to do their own thing, to deliver the deliverables without “interference” from other parts of the organization.

Some people prefer working in a world with clear, linear lines of authority. The matrix world is a challenge for them as well. Matrix management is not hierarchical like Feudalism. The lines of reporting up to a liege lord are not clear because the responsibilities are not always linear. If there is one caveat for dealing with matrix management it is this: beware of overuse of the dotted line. In some companies, to cope with the resentments and risks involved with mastering the matrix, a complex spider web of dotted lines results in a confusing array of connections. If everyone agrees to accountabilities, there is no reason to confuse life with too many dotted lines, which no one understands or can explain.

Management and Manager

From our perspective, after working with many clients that have large branded portfolios, the problems with matrix management begin with a misunderstanding of what it means to manage. Somewhere along the way, the language of business became misused.

Pick a dictionary, whether printed or online, and look up “management.” It means to “take charge or take care of.” It means “to handle, to direct, to control the actions.” A manager is a person who controls and manipulates resources and expenditures. In global marketing, it is not the person in the center who is the “manager.” Why is that? It’s because the local store, restaurant, hotel, bank, local franchisee, dealer, sales representative, service representative is managing the brand experience. Nothing happens until it happens at point of purchase, wherever that point of purchase and service may be. Following this logic, the brand’s ultimate responsibility to produce local results must be local. The center’s mind-set that it is the global manager is wrong and needs to change. Global, central personnel are not the ultimate managers. They need to be true leaders, and this is a much more difficult task. Brand management is local; brand leadership is global.

Leadership and Leader

“Leadership” is a different role than “manager.” It means “to guide or direct.” A leader achieves success through passion, persuasion, persistence, conviction, commitment, drive, and diplomacy. A leader inspires, influences, and motivates others. The five pillars of responsibility to lead are inspire, influence, educate, support, and evaluate. This is the role of the center: to be the global leader of the brand.

There is a clear role for central brand leadership for either global organizations or national organizations. It is the leadership responsibility to direct, to guide, to support, to inform, to educate, to facilitate, to influence, to evaluate and learn, and above all to inspire. Leaders succeed through the actions of others whom they influence. A leader’s greatest achievements come not by telling the local managers what to do, but by influencing these managers to do the right things in the right way producing the right results. In the matrix system, central leadership and local management are highly balanced between what leadership sees as proper and profitable direction and what managers see as how to achieve success in a locally relevant manner.

When it comes to a global organization, the basic principle to master the matrix–with few exceptions–must be that brand leadership is global while brand management is local.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Pearson, from New Brand Leadership: Managing at the Intersection of Globalization, Locatlization, and Personalization by Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. Copyright (c) 2015 Pearson Education Inc. Used with Permission. All rights reserved.