A Complete Guide to the Skill Will Matrix

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A Complete Guide to the Skill Will Matrix

The Skill Will Matrix is a valuable performance management and employee engagement tool for managers. Undoubtedly, managers play a critical role in employee engagement, productivity, and retention. Therefore, how managers interact with their team directly impacts performance and engagement.

The Skill Will Matrix provides a simple but powerful way for managers to customize their interactions to do both effectively. But what exactly is the Skill Will Matrix, and how can you use it to help your employees and your organization perform better?

What is the Skill Will Matrix?
History of the Skill Will Matrix
What is the difference between skill and will?
Applications of the Skill Will Matrix
Fictional case study: New manager hire

What is the Skill Will Matrix?

The Skill Will Matrix is a tool that compares willingness to perform a task to the degree of skill employees have to perform the task well. This is plotted on a 2×2 quadrant. Each quadrant indicates how the manager should engage with or manage the employees that fall in that specific quadrant.

  • Quadrant I: High Skill, High Will
  • Quadrant II: Low Skill, High Will
  • Quadrant III: Low Skill, Low Will
  • Quadrant IV: High Skill, Low Will
Skill Will Matrix

According to the World of Work, “it 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.”

In short, the matrix enables managers to determine how to help every employee improve their performance. This, in turn, leads to a motivated, engaged workforce willing and able to help you achieve your business goals and desired results.

As an HR leader, you can teach managers how to use this matrix and what performance management strategies they can employ.

History of the Skill Will Matrix

Organizations have been using the Skill Will Matrix over several decades; a testament to its value to managers in overseeing the performance of their direct reports. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard derived this tool from the model of situational leadership they created in the 1970s.

As the term suggests, situational leadership involves management and leadership flexing their managerial and leadership style to match the specific situation and individual employees with which they are engaging. The Situational Leadership Model is illustrated below, and if you compare it to the Skill Will Matrix above, you can see the similarities.

Situational leadership model

While this matrix is sometimes considered to be too simplistic, it can still guide you effectively in finding the best management approach for your employees.

What is the difference between skill and will?

Skill’ is the competence employees possess to function in their role effectively. People acquire and develop skills through learning and practice. Skills can also be measured in terms of proficiency levels – beginner, intermediate, advance, and expert.

‘Will’ signifies the degree of motivation employees have to perform a task or function in a role. Several things can impact employees’ level of will – degree of skill, professional aspirations, team and organizational culture, and personal life.It is evident from these lists that managers need to be very engaged with their staff to know what skills their team possess, the levels of proficiency of each team member, and also understand the motivating drivers that impact their will.

According to ExecVision, “(s)kill is objective. You have concrete KPIs and best practices to measure against. Will, on the other hand, is more subjective, and can only be uncovered through one-to-one conversation and observation.” However, to minimize the subjectivity in determining ‘Will”, a personality assessment, like a Hogan Assessment, can be helpful in determining employees’ ‘bright-side,’ ‘dark-side’, and ‘motivations, values and preferences.’

Depending on where employees are plotted on the matrix based on their level of skill and will, a different performance management style will be used.

Applications of the Skill Will Matrix

Skill Will Matrixes may be most useful in times of organizational transition. The following organizational changes describe its usefulness:

Post-pandemic work

After a year of remote working, downsizing in some industries, and a hiring boom in others, society is returning to some degree of pre-pandemic normalcy. Therefore, many organizations will be returning to the office soon. However, the past year has been transformational for many employees and organizations. Attitudes to work, workloads, perspectives on family life, competencies (new skills acquired), career aspirations, health profiles, and financial needs have changed. A manager may find completing a Skill Will Matrix to be both insightful and useful as the organization returns to ‘normalcy.’


After an acquisition and merger, a manager may find this useful to better manage and motivate merged team members.

New manager

A new manager is hired from outside the organization to manage a pre-existing team. The manager will find this tool valuable during the first few months of employment to better manage and understand the newly acquired team’s skills and work preferences. This helps prevent early mistakes in choosing the appropriate style of interaction and achieve quick wins.

Organizational restructure

There may be more job opportunities in some business units during an organizational restructure but less in others after the restructure. A Skill Will Matrix will help leaders make decisions that support new organizational objectives and retain key employees.

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Agile projects

Selecting members for agile projects can be a challenging and sometimes competitive process. Combined with the Competency Matrix, the Skill Will Matrix can be adapted to help leadership quickly determine the most competent and motivated employees to build agile teams that deliver timely results.

Fictional case study: New manager hire

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 working with and observing the team for about two months, Daphne wants to better understand the team’s capacity and degree of motivation to do their jobs. HR advises her to use the Skill Will Matrix and take the following steps:

  1. She reviews the team’s performance evaluations over the past three years.
  2. She solicits feedback about the team’s performance and each person’s capabilities from key stakeholders.
  3. She reviews each of their Hogan Assessment Results
  4. She meets with team members individually to discuss the reviews, feedback from stakeholders, Hogan Assessment results, and listen as they express their own engagement drivers, aspirations, and challenges.

Completing the Skill Will Matrix

After Daphne concluded the above steps, she completed the Skill-Will Matrix as illustrated below:

  • Khris – Quadrant I: High Skill, High Will
  • Stellar – Quadrant II: Low Skill, High Will
  • Max – Quadrant III: Low Skill, Low Will
  • Shelly – Quadrant IV: High Skill, Low Will

Khris – High Skill and High Will (Delegate) – Daphne learned that Khris was 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 the 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 to 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 learns is Shelly gets bored after she feels she has mastered a task. Shelly has changed jobs/organizations every 3-4 years. Daphne consults with the HR Director, and they both agree that the organization’s growth would soon necessitate HR Business Partners. Shelly would make a strong HR Business Partner given her high competence, experiences, 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 HR 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 skills’ gaps, but they also improve the employee experience and the HR Department’s image.

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, prior to completing the Skill Will Matrix, Daphne learns that Max really wants to pursue a career in Marketing & Communications. He pursued the HR 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. Though his role is a junior role, it is critical to providing HR service to all the employees and to the HR Department. It is essential to have someone with the right skill and will to consistently provide quality service.

Through this process, Daphne was able to customize the management of her team in a way that addressed their performance and motivational needs by empowering, exciting, guiding, and directing them.

Over to you

Simply put, the skill will matrix is a valuable framework and a starting point for determining the employee performance coaching techniques. This performance management tool helps you uncover and bridge the skills gaps, utilize your employees’ strengths, and motivate them based on their values and preferences.

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