Managing Performance – Skill vs Will

Wouldn’t life as a manager be so much easier if everyone in your team was the same, so you could treat them all the same way?

Unfortunately, managing people doesn’t work like that. Participants often tell us that one of the hardest things about being a people manager is knowing WHAT approach to take with each person.

Do YOU want a simple tool that can help you look at your team and work out the best intervention for each person?

If so, the Skill/Will Matrix can help. The Skill/Will Matrix “plots” a person’s SKILL level against their WILL level. The question to ask yourself for each person is: “how ABLE and how WILLING are they?” You can ask this question either in relation to their job as a whole, or for specific parts of their job.

So, what sort of people might you have in your team and what’s the best course of action for each one?


High Skill + Low Will

This is our Grumpy Expert. You know the type – they’re very capable and can do the job but their attitude leaves a lot to be desired. They might be capable but they’re definitely not willing. It always seems to be a battle to get this person to do what’s required – their attitude gets in the way. So, what do you need to do with a Grumpy Expert? Basically, find out what’s making them grumpy! Reiterating what you want from them is unlikely to get you anywhere. Instead, counsel them in order to uncover the cause of their low motivation and identify actions that both of you can take to raise their “WILL” level.


Low Skill + Low Will

This person could be described as Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook! They’re not willing and they’re not capable and this is likely to cause you lots of problems! But, before you hand them their P45, consider why this person is in this position in the first place. Perhaps they haven’t been given the necessary training to do their job or maybe the job role has evolved and different skill sets are now required which the person hasn’t got and doesn’t want. Or perhaps it was simply a poor recruitment decision. Whatever the reason, you need to tackle it. If they’re a round peg in a square hole, is there a round hole you can encourage them towards? Ultimately, if you’ve given them the tools and resources to do the job but they’re just not up to it, you can’t keep carrying them. You must confront the issue. Get advice from HR on how to manage the situation fairly and professionally.


High Skill + High Will

Here’s someone at the other end of both scales: your Shining Star. They are highly capable and extremely willing. It’s great having someone like this in a team – they’re so easy to manage, you can just let them get on with it. But, that’s where you need to be careful. You might end up taking this person for granted and paying them little attention. If you want to keep their WILL level high, you need to keep them motivated. A shining star needs Mentoring. Help them identify how they want to progress, and support them by offering opportunities to enhance their skills even further. Shining Stars may not want to stay with you forever but, at least while they do, they’ll be doing a great job and can serve as a role model for other members of the team.


Low Skill + Medium/High Will

This is your Eager Novice. They’re pretty keen but not really contributing much at the moment. It could be that they’re new into the job or industry so they need time and support to get up to speed. Before their WILL level dips to LOW, you need to grow their knowledge and skills so that they are able to perform well in the role. Train them – on the job and off the job. Give them responsibility for getting themselves up to speed with WHAT they need to know. Use your Shining Stars to role model HOW they should be doing it.

Medium Skill + Medium/High Will

This is your Steady Eddie. These guys are pretty solid performers and you know they’ve got even more to give. They are keen and capable. They might sometimes make mistakes but they learn from them. What do you need to do with your Steady Eddies to keep them motivated and develop them further? You need to employ a coaching style. This means, when challenges come their way, encourage them to come up with the answers themselves rather than handing them the answers on a plate. Draw out their potential by stretching them and building their confidence.


So who’s your team made up of? Are you doing the right things to move each person on? Use the Skill/Will matrix to plot your team and consider what intervention you might need to make. Why not take a blank Skill/Will matrix to your next one to one meeting and get the individual to identify where they think they are. If it matches your perception, that’s great, you can work together to move the person to their next level of development. If their perception doesn’t match yours, at least you’ve set up the foundations for a longer conversation.

We’d welcome your thoughts… what techniques have you used to manage different levels of skill and will? How you could use this tool with your team?

Look out for next month’s blog on Delegation.

Posted by Gill Bonello

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