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Effective Team Management Using The Skill/Will Matrix

By Ze MingNo Comments

Do you ever get the feeling that when you assign a task to someone, the task isn't done well enough?

The most likely reason for this occurrence is that your leadership style does not correspond with the individual. You may have been too 'hands-on' with an employee who can accomplish the work with little to no assistance, or you may have been too 'hands-off' with an employee who needs more assistance.

This shows that managers play an important role in employee engagement and productivity, and how managers interact with their team does have a direct influence on the company's performance.

Using the Skill/Will Matrix to evaluate employees helps managers to identify the employee's readiness for the task and what leadership style to use to interact with the employee in order to improve the employee's performance and team management.

Background of the Skill/Will Matrix

In the 1970s, an American behavioural scientist Paul Hersey and an American business consultant Ken Blanchard created the Skill/Will Matrix based on their Situational Leadership Model.

The Situational Leadership Model can be defined as the manager adapting their management and leadership style to the specific situation and the employee they are engaging with.

Max Landsberg, a leadership development expert, popularize the Skill/Will Matrix in his book "The Tao of Coaching." He developed the matrix into a critical management tool to streamline the teamwork.

He mentioned that knowing how to assign tasks based on the skill and will of different members is a valuable workplace skill. As a result of using the Skill/ Will Matrix, the matrix can assist managers in building a dynamic, efficient, and organized team of high performers.

Understanding the Skill/Will Matrix

The Skill/Will matrix is a 2x2 matrix used by managers to evaluate individual employee performance based on two factors, the employee's knowledge and skill on the one hand, and the employee's behaviour and attitude on the other.

These two factors are represented on two axes in the matrix. The horizontal axis is the skill axis. Skill can be defined as an employee's ability and competence to operate effectively in their position based on experience, training, and knowledge of the individual. 

The vertical axis is the Will axis. Will can be defined as an employee's degree of motivation and willingness to work and complete tasks. Employees' levels of willpower can be impacted by several variables, including professional aspirations, personal life, workplace culture, and skill level.

The individuals will be divided into four quadrants. According to the Skill/Will Matrix, individuals in each quadrant should be managed differently and distinctively, which varies from the Direct approach to the Challenge approach.

Four Quadrants Of The Skill/Will Matrix 

Once managers have evaluated the employee's performance based on their skill and motivation, they will then be divided into four quadrants. These four quadrants are low performers, contributors, potential detractors, and high performers.

Each quadrant will require managers to apply a different leadership style in order to bring out the best in them in their current situation. Let's dive a little deeper to see which quadrant your employees fall into and what leadership style is best for them.

Low Performers (Low Skill and Low Will)

The first quadrant of the Skill/Will Matrix is the low performers. Low performers are individuals who display little motivation and perform poorly. These individuals may have capacity and motivation difficulties due to underlying issues such as a lack of training causing insufficient ability or feeling unsatisfied with their employment which causes an attitude problem.

Another explanation for poor performers could also be that they are assigned to a role that does not fit them. The suitable leadership style for this quadrant is Direct, which is a more instructive and confronting leadership style, that provides employees with a more directive approach.

Managers must first conduct a root cause analysis to understand what caused the employee to become a low performer. Following that, managers must provide detailed instructions on what must be done by the individual in order to develop. Managers must also provide clear objectives, targets, and deadlines for the individual. The manager must thoroughly supervise both the execution and review their work to make sure that they are on the right track.

Contributor (Low Skill and High Will)

The second quadrant of the Skill/Will Matrix is the contributors. Contributors are individuals who have a high desire and motivation for the role but have yet to obtain the required skills for the role.

The suitable leadership style suitable for this quadrant is Guide. Managers should use a coaching and supportive leadership style. The manager should meet with the employee to discuss and develop a development plan. In addition, the manager should provide the employee with training and opportunities, as well as regular evaluations on their skills and performance results. By providing them with more training and opportunities, the individual's talent will gradually improve and may eventually be able to move to another quadrant.

Potential Detractors (High Skill and Low Will)

The third quadrant of the Skill/Will matrix is the potential detractors. Potential Detractors are individuals who have the skills to achieve the task requirements for the role but lack the will and motivation to put in their best effort. The suitable leadership style for this quadrant is Motivate.

Managers need to adopt a more stimulating leadership style for this quadrant, this is because potential detractors need additional motivation to improve their will.

In this situation, managers need to have a consultation with the individual and figure out what causes them to be demotivated, as well as what has to be done to provide motivation elements for the individual and build confidence in the employee in order to improve their will.

High Performers (High Skill and High Will) 

Last but not least, High Performers are the fourth quadrant of the Skill/Will matrix. High performers are individuals who are already fully capable of achieving the task requirements for the role and are not just motivated, but also passionate about the role. Individuals in this quadrant exceed the company's expectations and are where the company will see the best return.

The appropriate leadership style for this quadrant is Challenge. Managers must adopt a more delegating leadership style by including them in decision-making, delegating more tasks to them, and assigning them more responsibilities. This is because this quadrant will provide the best return for the business, and assigning additional duties to them will allow the employees to grow and develop to their highest potential. Managers should also encourage and assist high performers in taking responsibility for their own development because this is critical in keeping them motivated and moving forward.

Skill/Will Matrix 
Team management
Skill/Will Matrix Chart

Example of the Skill/Will Matrix

Now that we know how to identify which quadrant the employees fall into based on their skill and will, managers can apply the suitable leadership styles to interact with them and improve their performance.

To give you a better understanding of the application of the Skill/Will Matrix, here is an example that is written by Rhonda Gardner about an HR manager and how she utilized the Skill/Will Matrix to improve the performance of the employees on her team.

Daphne recently joined an organization as the HR Manager and is managing a team of 4 employees. Shelly has been on the team for four years as the Recruiter. In her prior role, Shelly was an HR Generalist for four years at another organization. Max is the HR Coordinator. He joined the team 12 months ago, immediately after graduating with a BA in Business Administration.

Khris is the Senior HR Generalist, and she has been on the team for six years. Then there is Stellar; she has been the Payroll Officer for 18 months. After she worked and observed the team for 2 months, Daphne wants to understand the team’s skill and degree of motivation to do their jobs. So she decided to use the Skill/Will matrix to evaluate her employees. 

  • Khris – Quadrant 4: High Skill, High Will
  • Stellar – Quadrant 2: Low Skill, High Will
  • Max – Quadrant 1: Low Skill, Low Will
  • Shelly – Quadrant 3: High Skill, Low Will

Khris - High Skill and High Will (Delegate)

Khris is a high performer and ambitious, needing little assistance in her work. Khris had applied to the manager role Daphne assumed. However, she didn’t have managerial experience. Daphne decided she would challenge, nurture and empower her.

She assigns Khris as the peer coach and, on certain occasions, allows Khris to shadow her as she manages the team. Daphne realized that as the organization grew, Khris’ experience, motivations, and disposition made her a valuable member of the team and even to her. It would be a massive loss if Khris left the organization.

Shelly - High Skill but Low Will (Excite)

Shelly is a potential detractor. Daphne needs to identify why her motivation is so low and find ways to excite and motivate her. What she learned is that Shelly gets bored after she feels she has mastered a task.

Shelly has changed jobs/organizations every 3-4 years. Daphne consults with the Human Resource Director, and they both agree that the organization’s growth would soon necessitate Human Resource Business Partners (HRBP) and they think she would make a strong Human Resource Business Partner given her high competence, experience, and personality profile.

They communicated this to Shelly, who was thrilled by the prospect of this new challenge. Daphne began crafting a 12-months HRBP development plan for her.

Stellar - High Will but Low Skill (Guide)

She has a good attitude and has developed positive working relationships with the team and staff. However, Stellar needs extra guidance and performance coaching. She is easily distracted and doesn’t pay enough attention to details.

This leads to recurring mistakes and complaints from the Human Resource Director. To develop her core skills, Daphne comes up with a plan of action. She identifies payroll administration training for Stellar to attend. She also spends considerable time sitting with Stellar during the payroll preparation week to provide frequent feedback on the process.

Daphne develops a checklist and procedural guidelines with clear rules to help Stellar be more attentive and accurate. These steps not only close Stellar's skill gaps but also improve the employee experience and the image of the Human Resource Department.

Max - Low Will and Low Skill (Direct)

Unfortunately, Max is a low performer. Therefore, Daphne provides him with SMART goals, a work plan and has weekly check-in meetings with him.

However, during the conversation with Max, before completing the Skill/Will Matrix, Daphne learns that Max really wants to pursue a career in Marketing & Communications. He pursued the Human Resource Coordinator role to gain work experience, earn an income and get into the organization. Daphne is privately discussing an exit strategy for Max with the HR Director.

Through this example, we can see how Daphne used the Skill/Will Matrix to evaluate her team and customize the management of her team to address their skill and motivation needs to improve not just the performance of the employees but also the performance of the Human Resource Department.

Final Note

To sum it up, the Skill/Will Matrix is a useful tool for managers to use when determining whether employees have the capacity and motivation to complete the task at hand.

It also advises managers on how to adapt their leadership style to one that is suitable for the individual in different situations.

This also assists the employee in becoming more effective and performing better when the manager modifies the leadership style to meet the employee's demands.

Therefore, implementing this matrix into your team management can assist you in building a more efficient, high-performing, and dynamic team.


History of the Skill/Will Matrix

Understanding the Skill/Will Matrix

Four quadrants of the Skill/Will matrix 

Example of The Skill/Will Matrix

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