I couldn’t believe it. In just my first semester I was already seeing the benefit of getting my MBA at NYU Stern. Wow! I knew that by choosing the Langone Part-time MBA program I would have the opportunity to put my classroom knowledge into action very quickly but I certainly did not expect that I would be having one of those moments of clarity in just my first semester.
About a year before I started my MBA, a Fortune 500 data and technology company, acquired the privately owned marketing agency I had worked at for the last 3 years. This also happened to be during my first semester at Stern. At this time the executive leadership of the fortune 500 company was deciding how best to incorporate my agency and a few others they had also recently acquired into the larger organizational structure. The leadership team ultimately chose a matrix reporting structure. If you’re not familiar with a matrix reporting structure, imagine an Excel worksheet were the rows represent product offerings (e.g. Product A, Product B, Product C) and the columns represent different industries or markets (e.g. CPG, Pharmaceutical, Telco, Finance, etc.).
The CEO and a few other members of the leadership team flew in to each office to deliver this reorganization news in person. During my office’s meeting he introduced us to the folks who would be running the different industry verticals (excel columns) and the folks who would run the horizontal product offerings (excel rows). It was immediately clear that this new structure meant change for many of us. In some cases teams were ripped apart and consolidated with other teams they had never met before. But the biggest change for product offering specialists such as myself was that we went from having a single line of command to now having two or more lines of authority and would now be spread thin across multiple projects. Many of my coworkers were emotionally upset. They couldn’t understand why this change was necessary and they didn’t know who their “real” boss was. Some were worried it would put too much work upon the specialists and they even thought of quitting.
I, however, was not worried. I had been taking Leadership in Organizations (LIO) with Professor Frances Milliken that semester and we had just finished reading about the pros and cons of different organizational structures. Having just studied this, I understood both the benefits and the trade-offs my executives were making. And I believed they were making the right decision.
I told my coworkers that being part of a matrixed organizational structure would be great for the company and us. It would allow for project efficiency for the company and increased exposure for us across the network (new areas of the company could now utilize our services). My peers and I would now gain the opportunity to work across multiple clients, increasing our knowledge in many industries. This breadth of clients also would increase our job security because now if the agency lost one client we would still have billability on a wider net of clients. Finally, our professional networks would increase as we worked on more projects and this would help us secure important places in the corporate network, increasing our influence and career trajectory.
I also highlighted that by having multiple lines of command we could retain our client exposure (a very important aspect in client services) while still being able to develop in our specialized areas (technology, analytics, etc.). This balance of technical development and broad client exposure was an improvement upon the old organizational structure. Previously, we had limited client exposure and as a result less variety in the problems we needed to solve. With this limited range of problems our technical development also remained limited and narrow. After this explanation of benefits, my peers quickly went through a cognitive reappraisal and were strong advocates for the new structure.
By having been exposed to these organizational concepts at Stern, I was able to understand the decisions my leadership were making and how these decisions would impact my business unit. I was also able to communicate what impact this would have on my peers. As a result, morale and productivity increased for the company in my office. And while that is great, this was also a great outcome for me as no one from my team quit. Today, I am proud to say my group is stronger than ever. We have been well positioned in the organization due to the matrix design and as more folks in the network learned about our services, demand for our work increased. We have since doubled our headcount and are seen as a significant revenue contributor in the organization.