Reading the job boards recently, I came across a few open posts for university communications directors. I believe it was Harvard’s that wagged a finger at potential applicants, “Must be able to work in a highly matrixed environment.” I have pondered that dire warning ever since. In a highly matrixed environment, presumably, one has to get buy-in or sign-off from many different people: those who lead departments or silos or special programs, all of which might be funded differently and possibly compete for attention, dollars, researchers, or students. In a simpler company or organization, a communications director would simply report to the chief executive officer, helping him or her manage communications and bulletins, whether internal or external.
Pondering the matrix led me to research politicians. (And anyway, we have been watching House of Cards on television.) How are politicians different from executives in highly matrixed environments? Probably they are in fact the same, I hypothesized. In the blog literature, how are politicians advised to get their start? “Always be fundraising,” say the writers. “Be transparent. Have a budget and stick to it. Listen.”
These strategies are so similar to sales. As you advance in your career, you simply have to improve in both dark arts.