SUCCESSION PLANNING – The Matrix Resurrections – Print – Issue 211 – May 2022 | article of the week


April 28, 2022

We’re all thinking about the future of work, but our focus is on where and when we work, not how we work and what new leadership looks like. Whether it’s in the office five days a week or zero days a week doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is that systemic and deep-rooted processes and structures at work are much easier to change than change. thought so before. However, succession planning approaches will also have to adapt to changed frameworks and flattened reporting structures.

During lockdown and the rush to remote work, collaboration between different parts of the business has become more difficult and has created communication barriers and unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, which has reinforced silos within the organization. ‘business. Reflecting on all we’ve been through, companies that insist on reverting to the old work hierarchy model risk losing talent, as well as the access to innovation and creativity that alternative work models free. A more fluid work structure allows teams to change tactics more quickly and adapt more easily to changing demands. It also leaves more room for experts from other departments to move around the teams as needed. That said, leaders need to walk in with their eyes wide open, a distributed workforce – and the hierarchy that emerges to best support it – needs clear accountability. Ambiguity in job tasks and job ownership arises more easily in a distributed workforce, so constant communication about expectations is essential. So what alternative hierarchical models will emerge and what impact might this have on succession planning?

Different companies and industries will, of course, have different models that will emerge as predominant, but many will find that traditional hierarchies are an inappropriate framework on which to base the leadership structure of a distributed workforce. One of the main reasons for this is that it lends itself better to distributed power networks. Networks are decentralized and often lack visible leadership or figureheads, which has many advantages. However, a caveat to going too far the other way is that the opposite of a traditional hierarchy is one that is completely decentralized and solely dependent on self-organization and self-management to function. The most famous example of this so-called “holarctic” style is shoe retailer Zappos, which deployed a style of organization “without job titles or managers”, only to quickly discover that it was not the utopia of the worker he had envisioned. One of the disadvantages of the absence of formal power structures is that informal power structures emerge, often without accountability, creating an environment conducive to bullying and harassment. So the winner will likely be a mix of both styles, one that prioritizes skill and skill.

It is important to note that succession planning in the future should be about skills and not about favourites, as shown by the traditional culture of succession planning, which was based on direct lines of reporting and preparation of a person for a particular role. Indeed, research from Harvard Business School shows that the concept of an “old boys club” at work is real, and found that male-led men are promoted faster than any other group. A caveat is that this research was conducted when physical presence in the office was still the norm and it is too early to tell whether the shift to hybrid working will reduce the promotional effects of proximity bias. But the fact is that past promotions were largely based on factors that, in many cases, had little to do with competence and efficiency.

So what metrics will we use to identify potential successors and base promotions on the future, if not the markers of high visibility with peers or better friendship with the boss? Skills and impact, of course, because the top-notch skills needed to propel a business become more evident when everyone is less physically visible. Those with business-critical skills — relative to those in close proximity to the powers that be — will move into positions of power, depending on the respect they earn as subject matter experts. But this rise will not follow traditional hierarchical structures. Rather, more strongly matrix organizations will emerge due to this change in the characteristics a company values ​​in a leader and how it chooses who leads. A matrix structure makes it possible to rely on the “most qualified person” to make a decision, rather than x the “most experienced person”.

Matrix organizations aren’t necessarily new, dating back to 2016 and a Gallup poll reported that 84% of employees had experienced matrix working at some point, to varying degrees. But matrix organizations will become more common in a distributed workforce and one of the main reasons for this is that a key area where matrix organizations thrive is collaboration. Embracing new ways of collaborating — and collaborating with more people across the organization — has been one of the key wins of the pandemic. This is because a distributed workforce levels the playing field between remote and onsite workers and simply operates more cohesively, if the organizational structure is matrix-based. So the burning question is, do we still need bosses in a distributed workforce? The answer is yes – and probably more than one – because in matrix organizations, employees have more than one direct reporting line. But this manager will not look like the bosses of yesteryear because, while empowering teams[1]don’t need a manager to assign work, they still need someone to encourage, mentor and help them develop their skills. So an increase in leadership coaching among people at all levels of a company – not just the C-suite – will become more common. Above all else, adaptability, flexibility and resilience will be the keys to making a matrix hierarchical model thrive and distributed working encourages all three. As we adapt to the changes required in succession planning, leaders need to take a moment to reflect and focus on being a supporting force for their employees, enabling them to perform at their best and grow. ward off, rather than being an obstacle. We need to make an extra effort to clarify roles within the new structure that is emerging in the company. The alternative is to double down on control, cling to outdated management models and risk losing talented people.


About Florence L. Silvia

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