Sometimes it’s easy to tell imaginative stories that add commercial value to your clients.
Sometimes it’s harder. And one of the biggest causes is a matrix structure – a three-dimensional jigsaw of complex and evolving relationships between different internal power structures.
It’s the dominant structure for investment businesses – with struggles between investment and distribution teams, comms and marketing, rival desks or teams, and more individual conflicts than I care to remember. Many other sectors have their matrices as well.
How do you get a piece of work through the matrix and over the line? I usually rely on a few things. Here’s a non-exhaustive list.
Get to know as many people as possible. Clearly you want to be as close to the centres of power as possible, because without that closeness you can’t think up the ideas that add real value to clients. But the more you understand the matrix, without actually becoming embedded, the more you can understand which points to focus on.
Read the mood. A company or unit’s mood can be hard to define but, if your relationships are extensive and good enough, you’ll just know whether an idea is going to fly or not.
Understand the culture. Investment businesses obsess about culture – but people within them often struggle to agree a definition of that culture. It’s perfectly possible for people to say a business unit is “investment led” but also “customer focused”. In some respects, these labels don’t matter – it’s the definitions people give to them that matter. So I suggest getting a handle on those because that will help you understand what people really want.
Be direct, when it suits. It’s often best to just ask people what they need – being direct rarely fails (and for someone like me who enjoys nuance, inference and suggestion being direct takes a lot of work). But remember that you might need to be subtle instead – it’s all about reading the mood.
Creativity counts. Come up with ideas that people couldn’t have thought of themselves – preferably ones that tie several strands together. If you can help two units engage more effectively then you add some significant value.
Understand when you have enough people on side. You can’t do anything without stakeholder support but if you have too few you’ll be accused to failing to consult – and if you have too many your ideas will become too diluted, and they’ll be of no value to clients.
There’s no reason to be like Keanu Reeves, who spent three films trying to navigate his own Matrix.
I’d be grateful for any thoughts.