Your team members will all have different coaching needs, so how do you tell what approach to take? The Skill Will Matrix is one way to see what might work best for each person.
How can I be a better coach for my team?
It’s a question most team leaders will ask themselves sooner or later. As no two employees work or think in the same way, motivating and supporting a team to deliver their best work can be immensely challenging.
Think about the members of your team. Who is highly self-motivated, and who needs a gentle push from their higher-ups to reach their goals? Where one employee is confident enough in their skills to manage their workload with limited oversight, another will need more assistance. Long story short, there’s no one-size fits all approach to coaching a diverse team of individuals with unique needs.
The Skill Will Matrix is one option to help managers assess what leadership and coaching style will best suit different employees. Read on for our complete guide on how to use the Skill Will Matrix to better support your team and improve your people management skills.
Adapting your management style for each member of your team is an important part of empathetic leadership. But when trying to identify everyone’s needs becomes overwhelming, a handy matrix can help guide you.
The origins of the Skill Will Matrix date back to the 1970s, when Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey were working on their Situational Leadership Model, but it was popularized by Max Landsberg after he referenced it in his 1996 book, The Tao of Coaching.
The premise of the Skill Will Matrix is simple: by plotting an employee’s ‘skill’ level on the X axis versus their ‘will’ level on the Y axis, you can determine what leadership style they will most benefit from. This will then help you adapt your approach to their unique needs. Easy, right?
So, what do ‘will’ and ‘skill’ mean in the context of the matrix? Let’s explore.
To accurately use this model, you need to understand exactly what you’re measuring. Let’s define what we mean when we talk about ‘skill’ and ‘will.’
‘Skill’ measures each employee’s level of capability at work. Whether they work in a creative, strategic, or managerial role, there will be job-specific skills that determine how capable they are.
Experienced workers will usually fall into the ‘high skill’ category, while new hires or those struggling with their responsibilities could be seen as having a low level of ability.
Assessing ‘will’ is more complicated. An employee's will is tied to their level of motivation: some workers are incredibly self-motivated, perhaps due to personal goals, whereas others need more external motivation.
It’s important to remember that motivation is not a constant; it will fluctuate as confidence levels change and personal factors come into play. For example, a formally high-will employee may lose motivation after experiencing a setback at work or a complication in their personal life.
The Skill Will Matrix is divided into four quadrants representing the four coaching styles. You can determine which quadrant a team member falls into by plotting their skill vs. will level on the matrix. Here’s what approach matches each quadrant:
But what are these four approaches, and how can you use them to motivate your team?
Before you can begin assigning approaches to team members, you need to step back and assess each member of your team’s skill and will in relation to their role. Only once you’ve gathered this information and defined their level of ability and will can you begin plotting workers on the matrix.
Let’s look at how you can adapt your management style for each category and better support your team dynamics.
These people will typically be highly motivated, high performers who your business will be keen to retain.
Taking a Delegate approach means empowering these team members to exercise their autonomy while making it clear you are there to support them as they need. Rather than acting as a coach, you take on the role of mentor, trusting them to manage their workloads and execute tasks without excessive oversight.
Here are some ways you can support high-skill, high-will workers:
People who fit into the low-skill, high-will quadrant have high levels of motivation to achieve but lack the skillset to reach their professional goals.
These employees are ready and willing to work but require a Guide to support them as they develop new skills and explore new opportunities.
Here are some ways you can support low-skill, high-will workers:
You may notice that your team members who have great potential but don’t always meet your expectations fall into this quadrant; that suggests they’re highly skilled but lack will.
What’s important to remember when working with high-skill, low-will individuals is that there are steps you can take to motivate them.
By uncovering what motivates high-skill, low-will employees, you can create a plan of action to re-ignite their love for their job and dedication to the team; that’s why the approach is called ‘Excite!’
Here are some ways you can support high-skill, low-will workers:
Whereas those in the previous three quadrants are eager to achieve, able to achieve, or both, employees who fall into the low-skill, low-will quadrant require extensive training and support to increase their levels of motivation and skill.
The good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up! With a Direct approach, you can help low-skill, low-will workers feel more confident in their abilities.
Here are some ways you can support low-skill, low-will workers:
Now that you understand how to use the Skill Will Matrix let’s explore where you can put it to use:
The Skill Will Matrix is a highly useful technique for team coaches to have in their toolkits. But before you begin putting it into practice, let’s look at the positives and negatives associated with this tool.
Here are just a few of the reasons why the Skill Will Matrix is invaluable for leaders looking to improve their management style:
Remember, these negatives can be overcome with the right mindset.
Taking these pros and cons into account, here are three key ‘watch outs’ to keep in mind when using this technique:
The Skill Will Matrix works best when you’ve got a solid understanding of your team members' skill and motivation levels. Not tracking their skills yet? Read all about skills management and tracking here:
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