Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard arrived at The Skill Will Matrix back in the 1970s, as an extension of the Situational Leadership framework co-developed by them. Over the last hundred years, several tools and mental models have shaped Management and Leadership practices. Performance Management and Talent Development have been popular themes for these endeavors.
Skills are the specific learned abilities needed to perform a given job well. Will is the willingness to execute a role as desired by the Organization. The Skill Will conundrum exists because one does not guarantee the other unless there is a focussed effort resulting from the awareness of their individual states.
The Skill Will Matrix essentially is a matrix, that has Four Boxes or Quadrants. Along the x-axis is the Will measure and along the y-axis is the Skill measure. Each of these has two variations – High and Low. A combination of these gives rise to four possibilities(boxes/quadrants):
- Low Skill – Low Will
- High Skill – Low Will
- Low Skill – High Will
- High Skill – High Will
A Team Member could fall in any of these Four Boxes. The Matrix further defines what must be a Leadership Approach to each of these four considerations in order to optimize employee performance. The implied takeaway is that a common leadership approach does not fit all four considerations. How a leader expends her energy on a Low Skill – Low Will employee would be different from that spent on a High Skill – High Will employee. Needless to say, there are other variables such as the complexity of the job, the experience level of the employee, the learning agility of the employee, and so on.
A Leader’s take on the Skill Will Matrix
The Skill Will Matrix has mostly been seen from a Leader’s perspective like in the below Matrix. It has been a Leader’s Hack, and rightly so, to begin with! The leader (manager) is the bridge between the Team Member and the Organization. The leader has the vantage view to see the Team as a whole, the individual Team Member, the business outcomes and the organizational priorities.
A Leader’s pursuit around this Matrix will only be successful when it has the participation of the employee. Often times the leader has made a qualitative interpretation of the Skill-Will status of a Team Member in isolation. It continues to be a Leader’s Hack, until it remains as the knowledge that is not harnessed for the Team Member in an equal manner, by the Leader. A logical next step is for the Team Member to have a common understanding of her positioning in line with the Leader. In the absence of this, the Leader might end up applying an incorrect strategy such as Supervising instead of Coaching.
Skill Will Matrix to the rescue of the Team Member actually sitting in the Matrix
The Skill-Will Matrix must also serve the Team Member. The Team Member must know what is in it for me. This forms the basis of a partnership with the Leader, which is required for successful and actionable next steps.
In a certain sense, the Leader and the Team Member are accountability partners to each other. The hacks presented for both roles, in each Box, are quite intuitive. The leader’s role is to share with the Team Member where she stands and receive the Team Member’s perspective. Concurrence is not the direct goal, but calibration is an important outcome. Once there is an agreement on the Quadrant, the rest is easy.
The lower scale Quadrant positioning can be challenging for the Leader to put across, nevertheless, a direct message is the shortest route to progress. This can be a surprise to the Team Member, and there are chances for the Team Member to get defensive. The best time to have this discussion is during periodic 1-1s, and not necessarily during a performance evaluation discussion. It is important to drive home the point that this is a medium to long-term journey.
Organization’s angle to the Skill Will Matrix
Another important understanding for both the Leader and the Team Member is for the two to recognize the Organizational perspective of the Skill Will Matrix.
This understanding is critical to both the Leader as well as the Team Member. Once they are able to connect from an Organizational Perspective, it tends to be less personal and the two can transact on a higher plane. Intent and purpose are better defined, and progress is more tangible.
An ideal Workflow for using the Skill Will Matrix in an organization
The Skill Will Matrix cannot be a secret that resides with the Leader. It is just half the journey. For tangible and actionable outcomes the Team Member’s positioning must be shared directly with a context of coaching rather than performance assessment. After this, the two must be able to relate with the Organizational perspective of the Four Quadrants. This propels actionable efforts and instills in the Team Member a motivation to get better. A likely workflow can be seen as below:
- Manager (Leader) to assess Four Box positioning of the Team Member
- Manager to share the placement with the Team Member, come to an agreement on the positioning
- Manager and Team Member to connect with Organizational Perspective
- Jointly work on improving the status, and hold each other accountable on the desired journey (define Goals, etc.)
Every Quadrant needs a special deep-dive. A 360-degree approach to using this Skill Will Matrix is fundamental to its success. The success lies in the partnership that is struck using the Skill Will Matrix.