The Skill Will Matrix: Pros, Cons and Examples
Managers get to watch employees gain new skills, rise through the ranks, and develop confidence. This is gratifying for the manager when they've had a hand in helping them get there.
But managing others isn’t a guarantee that you’re managing them well. What works for one employee may not work for another. Figuring out who needs what can feel more like an art form than a skill.
The truth is, managing others well is a skill that managers can learn with the right tools to do it.
One of those tools is the Skill Will Matrix.
This two-by-two matrix is a simple, powerful, tool to help you assess and develop employee potential.
Here’s everything you need to know about the skill will matrix along with some information on how to use it. Read on to also see examples that will help you see exactly how you can use the skill will matrix with your employees.
Understanding the Skill Will Matrix
Companies have been using the Skill Will Matrix for decades, which is a good indication that it provides real value to management teams.
The matrix is derived from the model of situational leadership created in the 1970's. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard invented the Skill Will Matrix. They wanted to help managers match managerial styles to employees based on their specific situations.
The matrix is still in use today because it’s effective, but also because it’s simple. Any manager can use the Skill Will Matrix to support their employees when they know what it is and how to use it.
Definition and Purpose of the Skill Will Matrix
There are four quadrants of the Skill Will Matrix. These quadrants help managers determine what supportive and directive behaviors their employees need. These behaviors may change depending on their skill and will. Following the matrix helps managers ensure they’re offering the right support to each employee.
Let’s explore an example. Managers with employees who have high will but low skills may want to take a guided approach. Managing employees with low will and high skill means helping the employees get motivated.
To use the matrix effectively, you just have to know what we mean by skill and will.
Differentiating between skill and will in this context
Differentiating between skill and will is at the heart of the Skill Will Matrix. Before you even look at the matrix, you have to take the time to uncover each employee’s skill level and their will to do the job.
Determining an employee’s skill level means:
- Evaluating technical competencies
- Determining the extent of their knowledge
- Cataloging their abilities
When it comes to skill, it’s all about determining whether an employee has the right training, knowledge, or experience to get the job done.
Determining an employee’s level of will means:
- Assessing their motivation
- Considering their attitude
- Outlining their willingness to perform
When it comes to will, it’s all about determining whether an employee has the right mindset to get the job done.
How to Use the Skill Will Matrix
The Skill Will Matrix is best used in conjunction with a performance management system. A tool like PerformYard can help you run assessment surveys and track metrics. These will give you the information you need to find which quadrant each employee falls under. That way, you’re using data, and not opinions, to make decisions.
When integrated into a wider performance management system, you can tackle the matrix in steps instead of trying to do it all at once.
Step-by-Step Guide to Implementing The Skill Will Matrix
A Skill Will Matrix questionnaire is about slowing down and implementing a step-by-step process. It’s a little more involved than filling out an actual questionnaire.
The process includes these steps:
- Identify key performance dimensions or competencies
- Evaluate employees' skill levels within each dimension
- Assess employees' will levels within each dimension
- Plot employees on the Skill Will Matrix grid
- Determine appropriate strategies for each quadrant
Identify key performance dimensions or competencies
The more specific you get, the more effective the Skill Will Matrix will be. Instead of considering each employee’s job as a whole, identify key performance dimensions and competencies. You might get specific after a project-based review. You might decide to dig into the details when determining whether an employee is capable of taking on a new responsibility. When you break their role down into core competencies, you will more accurately find their spot on the matrix.
Evaluate employees' skill levels within each dimension
The first step is to get the key performance dimensions and competencies outlined for an employee. Next, consider whether they fall under the low-skill or high-skill category. If they check more boxes than not, they fall into the high-skill category. Fewer boxes than not and they would be considered low skill.
If you feel they fall in the middle, consider their will before making a choice. That allows you to imagine how specific managerial styles would work with the employee before determining which skill level to assign them.
Assess employees' will levels within each dimension
Don’t base each employee’s will level on opinion. Work items into your performance management process so they can be tracked and measured. You can send out surveys and get feedback from employees directly, or you can get information from 360 reviews. The good news is that you only have to choose between high and low will levels, which should become clear when you review the data.
Plot employees on the Skill Will Matrix grid
Once you know an employee’s skill level and their level of will, you can plot them on the matrix. If picking just one of four coordinates seems too restrictive, consider treating the matrix like an x and y graph and plotting each employee on a scale of one to ten.
Determine appropriate strategies for each quadrant
Where the employee falls will determine what approach managers should take to improve performance.
- Low skill and low will need a direct approach with SMART goals and weekly check-ins, for example.
- Low skill and high will need guidance through things like performance coaching and training.
- High skill and low will need a plan that excites and motivates them, which may include entrusting them with a new or different role or task.
- High skill and high will need a plan where managers nurture their involvement with new tasks that develop their leadership skills.
Example: Utilizing the Skill Will Matrix in a Company
The best way to tackle a Skill Will Matrix template for your organization is to see what it would look like in action at a different organization.
Here’s an example of how a sales team would use the matrix to manage employees who fall into all of the four quadrants.
A. Mapping the sales team on the Skill Will Matrix
First, the company would assess each employee’s skill and will levels based on performance data. Based on that information, four sales employees fall into each of the four categories.
1. High Skill, High Will: Star Performers
Jerome is considered a star performer. He has the training and experience to make a sale, and he’s highly motivated to do it. It’s easy to see his positive demeanor in the office and the fact that he almost always hits his sales goals.
2. High Skill, Low Will: Frustrated Experts
Stacey is good at her job, and on paper, it’s clear she has the training and experience for a sales role, but she drags her feet in the office. She often hits her sales goals, but she waits ‘til the last minute to do it. As a frustrated expert, she is frequently distracted by her phone and she rarely shares her thoughts in meetings.
3. Low Skill, High Will: Enthusiastic Beginners
Chen came into the role with very little sales experience. He struggles to hit his sales numbers, but he’s open to learning. He takes feedback well and his coworkers enjoy having him around, so he’s considered an enthusiastic beginner.
4. Low Skill, Low Will: Struggling Individuals
Carmen received training before taking on her new sales role, but she doesn’t have any previous experience. She is withdrawn around her coworkers. She never approaches her manager, even if she has a question or an idea that could help her hit her sales numbers.
B. Tailoring strategies for each quadrant
Once employees are mapped out on the Skill Will Matrix, you can tailor a strategy that meets each employee where they are. That way managers can lead, but employees also feel involved in the process.
1. Star Performers
Star performers, like Jerome, should be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. They should also be provided with growth opportunities.
Managing an employee like Jerome means giving the employee challenging tasks and experiences. You might invite him to participate in managerial meetings. You could ask him to mentor new sales associates. Be sure to also reward star performers with raises and bonuses. Those will keep them excited to remain with the company.
2. Frustrated Experts
Frustrated experts like Stacey need to have their underlying concerns addressed. That way, their attitude won’t bring the rest of the team down. Managers also need to find a way to reignite their motivation.
In Stacey’s case, that could include training so she can transition to a different role. It could also include something like allowing her to plan a monthly office party if she loves hosting others outside of work. It’s all about allowing her to share what’s causing her frustration and finding ways to alight her passions while she’s at work.
3. Enthusiastic Beginners
Enthusiastic beginners may not be very good at their role—yet. But, with training and mentorship, you can provide the right support so they can develop their skills.
For example, Chen can easily grow into his role by receiving guidance and training from managers, as well as other sales employees. He would be the perfect candidate to partner with a mentor, like Jerome. He’s likely to learn a lot by attending a nearby sales conference or by shadowing another high performing employee.
4. Struggling Individuals
Struggling individuals, like Carmen, need extra coaching and guidance. This guidance should be based on their identified areas of improvement. This style of managing employees is most similar to traditional management techniques.
Employees like Carmen can greatly benefit from more frequent check-ins. These will help them get more comfortable talking to their manager. Involve struggling individuals in the goal-setting process. Include sustainment goals that enable them to celebrate small wins. That helps them feel more control over their position. It also gives them the opportunity to feel good about their achievements, even if they’re small.
Pros and Cons of the Skill Will Matrix
Using a Skill Will Matrix sounds great, and in a lot of ways, it is, but like any performance management strategy, it comes with some cons too.
Here’s the good and the bad, so you can decide if it’s right for your organization.
Pro: Enhanced understanding of employee potential
One of the best reasons to use a Skill Will Matrix is the fact that it encourages you to focus on your employees’ potential. That includes their potential to learn new skills and their potential to grow into a more positive outlook. It also includes their potential to grow into leadership roles. The matrix focuses on what’s possible, not what’s past. This creates a much more positive performance management process.
Pro: Customized approach to talent development
The Skill Will Matrix enables you to take a customized approach to talent development. It means struggling individuals can get more support. Star performers can also get the independence they crave. Employees are more likely to be satisfied with the support they get from management when it’s tailored to their performance.
Pro: Improved communication and feedback
In order to know if employees have high or low skill, and if they have high or low will, you have to have a system of communication and feedback. Using the matrix encourages you to develop a performance management plan. This plan will help you assess skill and will accurately.
Con: Subjectivity and potential bias
If you aren’t careful, subjectivity and potential bias can creep into the process. Assessing someone’s will level can be difficult. Even with data, it can be tempting for managers to go with their gut instead.
You may also find you’re not measuring what you think you’re measuring. For example, you may think an employee is skilled because they meet their goals, but it could be the case that the goals are simply too easy.
Con: Continuous assessment and adjustments
A Skill Will Matrix also requires you to make frequent adjustments based on the latest assessment data. It can take a lot of time to administer and analyze multiple assessments. Doing so will give you the right historical data to track whether or not employees are moving their position within the matrix. Performance management tools can make it easier, but the process can still be time-consuming.
Con: Integration with other performance management tools
With just four quadrants, the Skill Will Matrix is a simple approach to managing performance, but it can’t stand on its own. It has to be part of a more comprehensive performance management system. That means it has to be integrated with goals, feedback, and reviews in order for it to be truly effective.
The tools to streamline your performance management process.