Pushing On A String: The Challenges Of Managing Remotely Across A Matrix Organization
One of the most challenging positions to find oneself in is managing across a matrix organization. It's even far more difficult if we are managing this matrix organization remotely.
What are some of the difficulties? Well from a traditional management perspective, having the responsibility and especially accountability as a manager) without any real authority is vexing.
It becomes orders of magnitude more difficult when we are dealing with various functional areas (finance vs QA vs engineering vs marketing), various cultures, across different languages (even if we are all speaking English, it may not and most likely today is not the first language of many of our colleagues) and, of course, time zones.
In many instances, to the matrix manager it can feel akin to pushing on a string. And that doesn't get one very far.
However, there is a framework as well as concrete strategies and techniques that can be applied to the situation to anticipate issues as well as mitigate, reconcile or eliminate then as they arise.
First, it behooves us to understand that almost every problem falls into three categories:
And that of those three, 99% of the time, the gating item(s) (not the traversable issues) are or can expect to be interpersonal / communicative in nature.
Second, we can solve much of this, both by anticipating and by how we react by understanding how our matrix team members think.
Notice I said HOW they think. Not WHY they think.
HOW, allows to understand how the process information and structure experience and through that we can create a function that can apply a formula to information or scenarios and understand their reaction. This works even for unexperienced events and phenomenon.
WHY conversely forces us to memorize static data points and makes predicting behavior and reactions to unexperienced events and phenomenon much more tenuous and difficult.
Last, how we set the initial frames and maintain those frames will using influence and persuasion in an ethical manner will determine how well not only we are able to manage our remote matrix but how well the team itself performs.
Sometimes when the orchestra is out of tune it may fall to the feet of the conductor and not the musicians.
As an update, evidently Firestone Tires plantation in Liberia has made fantastic progress against the ebola virus.
Which proves how powerful leadership + aligned interests are. It certainly sounds like the US Government and other aid organizations should be talking to and learning from Firestone.
Ebola in the US?
You've had to have been living in a cave not to have heard about the unfolding ebola situation that has now reached the US, in Dallas, Texas, via index patient Duncan Hunter.
There's been potentially deadly bungle after deadly bungle starting with a visa issuance system which allows an entrant to self-administer their own questionnaire about their exposure to ebola to a horrible misdiagnosis and mishandling of the index patient at a local Dallas hospital which was later blamed away on "electronic record keeping" and a "miscommunication" between hospital staff and the attending doctors.
Beyond this, there are even more questions about the mechanics of dealing with ebola. For example, it's one thing to say that hospitals need to be on the outlook for ebola both by profiling a patient (recent travel to West Africa, in particular, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea? Any contact with a person, living or deceased with ebola or suspected of ebola?) and also by looking for indicators of ebola (temperature, unexplained bleeding, diarrhea, etc.) but it's quite another thing to say what to do when you have a confirmed case on your hands.
Specifically, there seems to be a dearth of information (from all of the reading I have done and that is quite extensive) about specifics such as:
"I don’t care how advanced any industrialized nation is, there is a threshold where we will outstretch the resources and it becomes uncontrolled.”
Through all of this, we can see that the medical system from the CDC on down appears to be completely leadership and that's about the nicest thing I can say. Oh sure, we've gotten boilerplate statements about this ebola incident being a "one-off" situation and that there's nothing to worry about as well as statements from the CDC and other's about their confidence in our medical system "containing this before it becomes an outbreak" but the actual execution of this by the so-called medical profession has been a sideshow if not a freak show.
How could this handling be improved? Well, it first entails an understanding of what's missing. And specifically the missing pieces include:
"The major flaws that we really found were about communication".
A leader is someone willing to step up and take charge and responsibility while also being able to handle the arrows fired into his or her back, because in a situation like this, it boils down to heavy politics and political correctness. Those persons in a position of power who take the path of inaction, will continue to be inactive until they finally see a benefit to be active or until the hits being inactive are greater than the risk of acting.
A person who is a true leader will step up immediately to the plate. In fact, any person looking for huge political gain (including a scoundrel), on either or any side of the aisle could gain enumerable benefit and power by doing so, though they would have to have a strong constitution and be street smart to stand up to the continuous volley of blackened arrows fired by the other political players.
The benefits, though, that would accrue to the savvy leader would more than offset the negative hits incurred.
The other point is that of communication. It is very clear that true communication as well as clear step-by-step planning on the very nuts and bolts of what should be done at a hospital or medical facility either suspecting or confirming an ebola patient has not occurred or is severely lacking.
So what can we learn from this for business? What are the takeaways?
Most persons in a position of power, including in business, cower in fear or reel from having to make real, hard calls. At the same time, those that may be willing to make hard call are often hamstrung from acting by political opponents.
However, a true leader who understands how to step in to the leadership or power vacuum and how to lead will reap untold benefits and profits while doing good.
Steve Jobs was a master of this as he demonstrated at Pixar and at Apple during his second tour of duty with the development and release of the iMac, iPod, iTunes and then the iPhone.
We need to understand that while other incumbents fought and blocked each other internally (from Nokia to Sony to name just two), Apple, with Steve Jobs' steady leadership at the helm (along with his iron fist) simply engaged in a massive land grab in numerous key market spaces.
As always, any company's greatest weakness is poor leadership and heavy politics while any company's greatest advantage is a field full of competitors who, themselves, are leaderless or otherwise engaged in heavy, destructive politics.
Why Do Startups Fail?
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
I came across this interesting Silicon Valley Business Journal article entitled "Why do startups fail? Here are the top 20 reasons" which summarizes a large post-mortem analysis of startup failures conducted by CB Insights
One quick takeaway to highlight:
"After reading through every single of the 101 post-mortems, we’ve learned two things. One — there is rarely one reason for a single startup's failure. And two — across all these failures, the reasons are very diverse."
Here's the top twenty reasons:
(Note: percentages don't add up to 100 because sometimes there are multiple reasons for failure)
1. Building a solution in search of a problem: Falling in love with an idea or building it out with market validation. 42 percent cited this.
2. Cash Out. No Mas: We'll assume this wasn't due to financial mismanagement or malfeasance but a natural outcome of a sane burn rate over an extended period with trailing revenues of a lean nature. 29 percent reported this.
3. Wrong team: Lacking key members or skill sets This was cited by 23 percent of the companies.
4. Beaten by the competition: About 19 percent of the companies reported this.
5. Pricing/cost issues: Reported by 18 percent in the study.
6. Poor product: This was reported by 17 percent of the companies.
7. Need/lack business model: A lack of a viable model killed 17 percent of these companies.
8. Poor marketing: Knowing how to code or build good products isn't enough. Reported by 14 percent of the companies.
9. Ignoring customers: 14 percent of the companies in the studied pointed to this.
10. Mis-timed product (releases): 13 percent of the companies in the survey reported this. A Calxeda employee told CB Insights, “We moved faster than our customers could move. We moved with tech that wasn't really ready for them... We were too early.”
11. Lost focus: 13 percent reported this.
12. Founder/investor strife: Creative tension is far different than toxic infighting. 13 percent of the companies succumbed to this.
13. Pivot gone bad: As has been said, "The pivot used to be called the f****up". 10 percent pointed to this.
14: Lack passion: The passion to stick it out, to execute. 9 percent identified this as the reason.
15: Bad location: For hiring/retaining talent, customers, investors and so on. This was cited by 9 percent.
16. No financing/investor interest: This was pointed to by 8 percent.
17. Legal challenges: Cited by 8 percent of the companies.
18. Don't use network/advisers: Again cited by 8 percent of the companies.
19. Burnout: Never a good thing, many reasons why a team can burn out. 8 percent pointed to this as the culprit.
20: Failure to pivot: As has been said earlier, "The pivot used to be called the F****up" and while that may be true it doesn't change the fact that continuing down the same messed up path is going to get your any place faster (other than bankruptcy court) and certainly no where better. 7 percent cited this.
Speaking Event: I'm 40 Now! Is It Really Game Over For Me In Japan's Job Market?
James will speaking on the very important career-related topic of "I'm 40 Now! Is It Really Game Over For Me In Japan's Job Market?" at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on November 20th.
Among job seekers, arguably no group is more negatively affected by this brutal reality than 40+ year old job seekers.
Many 40+ year old job seekers are shocked to find this is the reality not only in the broader US economy but even in vaunted Silicon Valley which is the supposed Mecca of open-mindedness and where a meritocracy has ruled for decades.
And yet, for how bad it is in the US and even Silicon Valley, 40+ year old job seekers soon come to find that it's often much, much worse in Japan. Terrible. Impossibly frustrating. Depressing. These are words that come to mind when seeking employment in Japan as a 40+ year old candidate.
But how can this be the case in Japan, when Japan still has an economy which is the 3rd largest economy in the world and which is moving to further internationalize its businesses as rapidly as possible in the face of both falling domestic demand and a severe shortage of experienced workers.
The bottom line is this: Older, deeply experienced job seekers quickly run into 5 seemingly insurmountable brick walls..
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
The Sun Also Rises (陽はまた昇る || Yō wa mata noboru), starring Ken Watanabe (foreigners will know him from his appearances in The Last Samurai and Inception) is a riveting drama that captures the development in Japan of the nascent and soon to be ubiquitous VHS video format.
Starting as a stealth or more accurately, an unapproved Skunk Works projects within JVC (Nihon Victor Corporation) it culminated in
the development and release of the new VHS standard to the industry.
On top of that, JVC's new format was royalty-free and competed directly against Akio Morita and his uber-powerful Sony Corporation (when you think of Akio Morita, think about Steve Jobs before Steve Jobs was even on the scene) and their Betamax.
Lots to takeways from this movie in terms of government pressure and cronyism in the form of MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry / 通商産業省 / Tsūshō-sangyō-shō) officials who had backed Betamax and, therefore, wanted JVC to deep-six their VHS format.
Other key takeways:
- No Box Thinking
- Technical Innovation
- Market-Focused Feedback Loops to ferret out new Use Cases
- Tenacity / Being Relentless
- True Leadership
- New Business Models (royalty-free industry standard)
In summation, this docu-drama really demonstrates Japanese business ethics, working styles, attention to detail and cultural expectations.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
"So, what, you think you're a minder read and can read minds, right?! Ha!"
I often find myself fielding this question although sometimes it's delivered in a tone of voice that conjures up images of an accusation such as "charlatan!" rather than a genuine question.
But that's okay, as it shows interest and engagement on the person asking it and once they allow me to explore a little more with them, they are usually hooked and have an "aha!" moment.
This most often occurs when I deliver the Psychological Jujutsu, Organizational Power Dynamics or Supercharged Sales training to my group classes or when I coach an individual. It seem that almost without fail, this occurs during the course of a particular exercise or coaching session when I'll cold read a person or situation or analyze a situation that is described to me and then "nail it" without ever having met the particular party in question and most often without ever having been completely privy to all facts or details surrounding the party or situation.
Examples have included individuals and situations such as the problematic office admin who went from threats of power harassment to suddenly gleefully resigning, the top salesperson who had a court order for the garnishment of his wages for payment to his former spouse and who decided to resign rather than have his money garnished to the problematic country manager who was quickly read and understood as being frightened of someone internally "taking" his job.
So the simple and honest answer to this question or perhaps the rejoinder to this accusation is, of course, I'm not a mind reader nor do I purport to be. And yet my results are there and they are what they are with them being more often than not extremely uncanny in their accuracy.
The most important insight from my work and research that I try to impart to my students, clients and skeptics is that you don't need to be a mind reader to be accurate in your reading of a situation because in most cases the party in question through their actions, reactions and inactions almost to a tee loudly and graphically telegraphs exactly what they are thinking and how they are thinking as well as their intentions.
They also communicate this through both their acts of omission (including benign neglect and mindful tarpitting) as well as through acts of commission. In some cases the acts maybe overt in nature and in other cases covert.
It matters not.
Sometimes, I'll wait to passively receive this silhouette and then begin to outline their profile, but more often than not I do as I advise all my students and clients -- make like sonar and make like radar by actively and continually pinging and painting your environment and targets.
It's that simple.
And you should use this daily until it becomes a root kit script -- one that requires no conscience deployment or utilization, and one that becomes as internalized, integrated and critical to your very survival as breathing.
Why Companies Overpay for Tepid & Terrible Talent While Blocking, Rejecting & Trampling Top Talent
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Have you ever wondered why companies so often overpay for talent that just doesn't perform or worse negatively impacts the company's performance?
By the same token, have you ever wondered why companies seem to so often inadvertently or even consciously block, reject and trample Top Talent?
The fact is, the so-called War For Talent most often resembles a War On Talent.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane has published a new book entitled, "Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs" and I'm here to posit, that without even having cracked open one page of this book she is spot on, at least with regard to her provocative title.
"But wait, what? How could she be right?"
"How could that title be right?"
"How can you, James, be such a pompous ass to think you know anything about Apple let alone judge Kane's book by its cover?"
"Doesn't Apple create magical products? It's true that Steve Jobs has passed on but the same great staff, the same great workers remain!"
And all of that is true.
However, to understand why the title of the book is right and why I'm right we need to honestly and objectively understand who Steve Jobs was and what made him so successful and Apple so successful under his leadership.
And leadership is an operative word here.
At the same time, we need to understand that competition doesn't operate in a vacuum so we must ask, "What made Apple's and Steve Jobs' competitors so timid? Why didn't they respond and counterstrike? Better yet, why didn't they create the iPhone type phone, the smartphone first?!"
And the answer is simply it goes back to the structure and dynamics of office politics and power within a company. The real shock should not be that Apple, with zero experience within the mobile phone industry, built and released the blockbuster iPhone but that none of the incumbent handset makers did!
Where was Nokia and their smart phone? In fact, where were the rest of the handset makers?
And that is the real shock. Not that Apple made a smartphone but that the 800-pound Gorillas gave them an opening and then didn't pounce and kill or even defend their territory.
However, if you've taken one of our related coaching or training sessions (How To Beat Silicon Valley's (and other) Fast-moving Startups At Their Own Game) or just intuitively understand Office Politics and Power (aka Organizational Politics & Power - OPP) this not only comes as no surprise but rather it both predicted and expected. And once you understand Office Politics and Power, you can quickly see and understand why and how Apple under Steve Jobs beat Sony to the next iteration of the Sony Walkman which became known as the Apple iPod.
It helps one also understand why and how Larry Ellison discussed the Net PC (in the mid-1990's) but Apple built it (the iMac), and why Apple could add some basic design features and colors to it to make a hit while intra-company rent-seeking behavior at the competition prevented them from responding or competing let alone getting that to market first.
OPP also explains why and how Jobs could do the same with Pixar while a former Disney employee, John Lasseter, who suggested as much years before Jobs ever thought about animation or rendering farms was let go (or summarily fired depending on the source one references) from Disney, only to have it all come full circle again with Disney acquiring Pixar.
And, of course, it explains some of the biggest daddy ball drops in history such as Xerox PARC and their full blown PC and related projects (which later became reflected in industry leaders like Apple, Adobe, SGI and 3Com) and Kodak with their digital camera years before the competition had one...that all went to waste...
I've talked about that in detail here, about the Myths About Steve Jobs and how is personality and ethos, while celebrated within Silicon Valley (and beyond) is actually completely anathema to traditional Valley ethos.
Reference: Steve Jobs: The Man Who Broke Every Myth & Meme In Silicon Valley & Become A Legend
The problem then, is that a company (any company, including a post-Steve Jobs Apple) needs a strong leader who is unafraid to break eggs to make omelettes and unafraid to slaughter sacred cows for burgers or even just for fun. They also need a leader who is not just unafraid but actually enjoys and even thrills in steamrolling the competition and taking the troops straight up the middle as Alexander the Great did to Darius during one the Macedonian-Persian wars.
As a further piece of evidence, one only needs to consider that the Akio Morita, the founder of Sony, was Steve Jobs while Steve Jobs was still in diapers. Moreover, Akio Morita was extremely aggressive, even actively counterattacking industry special interests who tried to have the courts block the Sony Betamax recorder. Morita was successful in defending this and in ultimately escalating this to the US Supreme Court with Sony (and consumers) coming out as the victor.
Tim Cook being the nice great guy and "steady, paint by number operator" he is (certainly he's the first guy that I would hire or consult with to determine what color doilies to lay out for my dinner party), shares none of those characteristics with either Steve Jobs or Akio Morita.
So now lets move on to more questions regarding Job's selection of Cook as his successor.
Innovation Denied With Billions Lost: What Brian Acton & WhatsApp Teach Us About Innovation, Leadership & Hiring Practices
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Well, if you haven't heard the news yet the Valley M&A buying spree continues unabated, this time with Facebook snapping up mobile messaging company WhatsApp for a hefty $16 to $19 Billion USD (depending on which news source you reference).
There are many lessons and takeaways from this acquisition but allow me to focus on just a few.
1. Ignore The Cheerleader Tech Press:
WhosWhat? WhatsWho? WhatsApp! Personally, I wasn't aware of WhatsApp before this acquisition as I don't use the app and I'm mostly a user of Viber and Skype so I can be forgiven. However, within the Silicon Valley Cheerleader Press, especially Tech "Apple-Twitter-Quora" Crunch and even Pando Monthly and VentureBeat, I'm sorry but even as frequent if not habitual reader, I just didn't see the coverage. How could this be, how could they miss it, a huge multibillion dollar company?
The answer is simple: Why would you expect the Cheerleader Tech Press to get it?
2. Companies Can't Pick Top Talent:
It turns out that before co-founding WhatsApp, Brian Acton formerly worked at Yahoo in a quite senior / important position. After over a decade at Yahoo, he left to take some time off and then applied for a new position landing interviews with at least a few major valley tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter. However, he was rejected at both. Perhaps these rejections were due to Action being incompetent. Or perhaps Action interviewed poorly and no communication skills? Or is it perhaps more likely that these companies or at least the hiring authorities at these companies either (a) don't know how to select top-shelf talent and/or (b) allow office politics and threats to an incumbent employee's ego or career path to dictate who gets hired and who doesn't? Examples are where a senior person with top skills scares a younger or less experienced manager from making the hire -- doubt that? It happens all the time. All the time. And it costs companies millions if not billions per year.
Oh and it makes you wonder, if Facebook had hired Acton, would they have gotten him to build WhatsApp for a lot less than the $19 Billion USD they paid for it? Or would WhatsApp never be built and fall into the "Innovation Lost" point below?
3. Leaderless Rather Than Leadership and Innovation Lost:
Perhaps the biggest lesson is why Yahoo, which had him onboard for over 10 years didn't extract this value, this innovation It's possible that Yahoo was simply so completely leaderless and rudderless that they didn't even know what to have him do. Or perhaps he tried to be innovative and got his hands slapped. Whatever the reason, it's clear that Acton had some innovative ideas inside of him and more importantly he had the confidence and motivate to start and execute. But it's clearly not just a shame but a multi-billion dollar tragedy that Yahoo had him on the payroll all those years, had him suited up and yet would let him get in the game and swing for the fences.
If you can create a company with the proper culture that has strong leadership, embraces innovation, empowers employees and hires top talent or solid talent, especially talent that either scares other firms (because it's too good) or is good inside but is a bit dinged on the outside, you're firm will do very, very well.
Can Struggling Japanese Companies Actually Beat The Snot out of Fast-moving Silicon Valley Firms? Yep. And Here's How
Over the last twenty years, and accelerating in the last 7 years, not only Japan but the entire world has begun to question Japan's ability to innovate and create as companies such as Apple and Samsung rule Japan's former stomping grounds and gleefully gorge themselves on Japanese companies' bento boxes on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, once mighty and innovative Japanese firms like Sony and Panasonic bleed red and constantly try to slough off workers while peddling a staid if uninspiring set of "me-too" and "also-ran" product lines.
How far has Sony fallen? Well, it's gotten to be so bad that if Sony founder, Akio Morita, were to magically re-appear today and venture over to the front entrance of Sony Japan, he wouldn't recognize the place. Worse, if he then decided to apply for a position, not only wouldn't they hire him, they'd most likely call security and have him escorted off the premises.
But all is not lost.
In our No Box Thinking™ (Volume 3), entitled "How Struggling Japanese Companies Can Beat Silicon Valley's Fast-moving Startups At Their Own Game" we go through exactly what has happened, what has changed and how, in a short time and by using some talent management adjustments, Japanese firms can again perform at our above that of their competitors.
SiliconEdge™ helps catalyze and drive the Productivity, Performance, Profitability, and Peace of Mind (4P's) of organizations, talent, and teams through our innovative, results-driven Talent Acceleration, Optimization, and Transformation programs.
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