Q&A: Reporting To Two Managers

Posted: December 19, 2013

Reporting to two managers can be tricky. In this edition of the Q&A for working women in India, life coach Jaya Narayan talks about handling dotted line reporting in a matrix organisation structure.

I work in the HR function, in the IT industry, with my focus being on learning. While I report in to the business head for our geography, we are an MNC that is fairly integrated globally, so we also have functional reporting relationships across different regions.

In my case, what this means is that I have a dotted line with the HR Head for our overall Asia-Pacific region, and while a nice person, he seems to have quite different ideas on what HR should be doing, as opposed to our business head. For instance, he believes in taking a more strategic approach and looking at how HR has contributed to the improvement of talent within the company, beyond just numbers, but our business head believes that this is wishy-washy, and would like me to focus on more quantifiable metrics like number of trainings done, or his favourite – cost reductions on HR programs! 

To top it, my business head isn’t all that pleasant a person, and has a history of being quite abrasive with most team members, and I find it difficult to challenge his obsessions with numbers, some of which are quite ridiculous.

I’m hearing from more and more friends about such dual reporting, which makes life quite miserable. I’m never sure whom I should be pleasing, and the appraisal also tends to be a hodge-podge with views coming in from all directions! Do you have any suggestions?

– Anonymous

Dear Anonymous

Let me start with a quote.

“The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.” : Steve MaraboliLife, the Truth, and Being Free.

Matrix reporting has become a norm in many organizations especially in Multi-National Corporations (MNCs). At a personal level, I can empathize with the anxiety it can create. When we report to two people with diverse personalities and differing expectations, it is not easy.

Acceptance is the first step.

Here are some tips to manage the matrix reporting effectively –

Get them on the same page

Your biggest task would be to bring the two reporting managers on the same page. Begin with dialoguing and setting expectations periodically. Any opportunity to get the managers on the same page must not be missed. Finding opportunity to discuss work opportunities and challenges in joint conversations is the key to success. Once your working relationship is well established, subtly but constructively bring up challenges that you may be facing.

Periodic updates

Make sure your work and customer (internal or external) feedback is visible to both the managers.  Proactively spend time walking them through your achievements and challenges.  Prevent escalations and negative perceptions by seeking support proactively.

Build personal relationship

Behind every role is a person. When the personal connections are strengthened, trust is established. Make sure you spend informal time to get to know each individual better. Don’t get swayed by the feedback you have received about them from others, use your own judgement and experience to decide.

Stay neutral

Often we have the urge to align to one person over the other. The manager similar to you and your approach to working could be your first preference. I would ask you to stay neutral. Focus on each manager’s strength and learning opportunities they prompt for you.

In summary, focus on your strengths. This is a great opportunity to deal with diverse people and work in a situation of ambiguity. Make sure your approach to work and decision-making process is aligned to the business needs.  I am sure with these tips, you will be successful in any context.

All the best and tell us how you could turn around the situation.

Have an issue at the workplace? Want to work on your people skills? Find networking daunting? Need help with appraisals? Wondering what you should do to move up the ladder? Not sure about switching jobs or careers? Click here to send us your questions and get them answered by the experts!

*Photo credit: futuraprime (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

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