The Skill vs. Will matrix is a management tool (made popular in “The Tao of coaching” by Max Landsberg) used to determine what the best management approach is for a given staff member, based on two metrics: their level of skill and their level of will.
The skill vs. will method will help you answer two simple yet important questions:
How much can that person rely on his or her skills to complete the task?
How much does that person really want to complete the task?
The management approach that is most likely to yield satisfactory results may depend on the answer to these two questions.
The principle of the skill vs. Will matrix is relatively simple and accessible. Any manager with good people skills should be able to use the matrix and determine the style that best suits his employees. It is therefore a very good first step toward good management because it starts with an assessment and provides clear guidance on what to focus on.
Another interesting aspect of the method is that it encourages the manager to push their employees toward better skill and better will.
A common risk of the Skill vs. Will matrix lies in the assessment of the worker’s strengths: it is very easy to let prejudice bias that first evaluation. Given that the manager will base his whole coaching approach on that first assessment, it is critical for it to be fair and balanced. What you want to avoid is to apply the wrong management method, which can impede the progress and results of the employee and/or set unreasonable goals.
When you are a manager trying to have someone achieve a specific goal, it is crucial to understand where that person stands and what it will take to get the results you need.
It is particularly interesting when you are setting multiple goals for an employee, because their level of skill and will is more than likely to differ from one task to another, and this method will help you adapt your management style depending on the task at hand.
Supervise and Excite: Low Skill – Low will
Low skills and low willingness to succeed is a tricky combination. The manager’s role is crucial and will consist in both taking charge and inspiring. Supervision implies solid guidelines, control and decision-making, is time-consuming and should ideally be viewed as only temporary.
Coach: High Skill – Low Will
Coaching is mostly a motivational role: the skills are there, and a manager must now instill confidence and enthusiasm in the worker. Decision-making is still very much the coach’s responsibility, but communication will be the key. A coach should aspire to have the employee take charge eventually.
Support: Low Skill – High Will
This situation could for example occur with a new recruit eager to get off to a good start and make a good impression. The coaching style is mostly aimed at directing and channeling the worker’s actions and supporting him/her in his/her decisions.
Delegate: High Skill – High Will
This category, the “star”, seems like the most straightforward to manage: the manager gives a lot of leeway and responsibilities to his or her employee, and gets involved when called upon. It is an opportunity for the worker to develop and work his way up. For that reason, the manager should still follow closely the evolution of the employee, in order to set challenging goals and make sure to maintain a high level of motivation.