The skill / will matrix is a simple tool to asses an individual’s performance. It also provides guidance on how best to manage them. Individuals with high skill and will should be delegated to. Those with high skill but low will should be excited, those with low skill but high will should be guided and those with low skill and low will should be directed.

Summary by The World of Work Project

The Skill / Will Matrix

The skill / will matrix is a 2×2 matrix that is often used by managers to assess individual performance. The matrix places “will” (willingness, enthusiasm and self-drive) on the vertical matrix and “skill” (core capability) on the horizontal. Willingness is related to motivation.

The model suggests that individuals in each quadrant should be managed in a different, specific way, ranging from Delegation to Direction.

The skill / will matrix shown as a 2 x 2 matrix

Assessing individuals Using The Skill / Will Matrix

Leaders or managers assess the individuals in their teams against the two dimensions of skill and will. Once they’ve done this, they place the individuals in their teams into whichever quadrant is most appropriate for them. The next stage is for managers to plan how to manage each of their employees going forward.

As an aside, it’s worth considering the fact that low skilled people tend to overestimate their capability. This cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

High skill and high will

Individuals with both high levels of skill and high levels of will should be able to motivate and drive themselves, and have the ability to deliver effectively without management intervention.

These are great people to have in your team and your role as a manager is to get out of their way, let them perform, recognize their achievements and support them as required, perhaps as a coach or mentor.

Some people have awesome skills and a willingness to use them.

High skill but low will

Individuals with high levels of skill but low levels of will have the ability to go a great job, they just lack the drive or motivation to do so consistently.

Your role as a manager with these individuals is to help motivate them, to excite them about the tasks at hand. You can read more about motivation to help you do this.

High will but low skill

Individuals with high levels of will but low levels of skill are enthusiastic and want to do a good job. They’ll put lots of effort in and do so with energy, but they lack the ability to go a really good job.

Individuals like this should be supported and guided so that they improve their level of skill. They want to learn and develop and should be helped to do so.

Low will and low skill

As per The skill / will matrix some people might have low skills
Some people might lack skills and just rather switch off and look out the window.

Individuals with low levels of both skill and will may be in the wrong role. Managers and leaders should really focus on helping these individuals increase their skill and will, or perhaps more helpfully help them find a role they truly want.

While these individuals are in a team, managers often have to pay fairly close attention to them and adopt a directive and close review style of leadership.

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Managing Individuals Using The Skill / Will Matrix

Each of the different skill and will quadrants requires a different, appropriate style of management. These styles of management range from direction to the least skillful and willing individuals, up to delegation for the most skillful and willing individuals.

Delegate (high skill and high will)

To delegate effectively, ensure you are clear on desired outcomes, listen effectively, involve the individual in the decision making process, provide feedback, celebrate successes and fully empower the individual to own their deliverables.

Some people can just be asked to go ahead and solve problems, others need direction.

Excite (high skill and low will)

To excite effectively you should instill a sense of value and importance into the tasks you ask people to do. You also need to learn what motivates your individual and provide those motivating factors. , provide feedback, celebrate successes and again fully empower the individual to own their deliverables. Individuals without ownership often lose will.

Guide (low skill and high will)

To guide effectively, set clear and agreed outcomes, explain processes and required steps, be clear regarding required quality levels, identify and provide the required training needs, observe delivery and provide frequent feedback, check in frequently, remain available to support and ensure you celebrate successes and progress in both delivery and increasing skill.

When guiding employees it might be worth using coaching models such as the GROW model or CLEAR model. You can also learn more about coaching in our podcast on the subject.

Direct (low skill an low will)

Sometimes you need to be directive.

To direct effectively, try to understand what would motivate the individual and provide that. Also ensure you are clear about required outcomes and quality levels, set clear rules and deadlines, allow the individual to own specific bits you think they can deliver, check in with them regularly, review their work to ensure it’s at the right standard, and remember to recognize and celebrate their successes too.

The World of Work Project View

We think the skill / will matrix is a decent framework. It’s very similar to the situational leadership model. It can helps managers think about the people in their team in a slightly different way. It also helps them think about how they can adopt their leadership style to reflect the different situations they will face with their employees. Though we think it’s useful, we think it’s only good as a starting point.

The bit we don’t like about the model is that we think it’s a bit too simplistic. It considers the individuals without really taking into consideration the broader context in which they are working. We would recommend that a manager, once comfortable with this model, consider something like Blumberg’s performance model that brings “opportunity” in as a third dimension.

While this model is helpful in that it provides guidance to managers about how to respond to individuals in different situations, it doesn’t provide guidance on how to change the situation, which is often the root cause of lack of both skill and will. A great example of a change of this nature would include changing an individual’s opportunity levels.

In short, it’s good to know and understand this model, but we think there are better ones out there.

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This post is based on various interpretations of content originally derived from Ken Blanchard’s four basic leadership styles. These were published in his book: “The One Minute Manager”.

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