A Complete Guide to the Skill Will Matrix [Free Template]

“Great leaders know how to motivate their team members and inspire them to take ownership of their work,” says Lolly Daskal, author of The Leadership Gap. The Skill Will Matrix equips you to do just that for your organization.

Written by Rhonda Gardner
Reviewed by Monika Nemcova
12 minutes read

The Skill Will Matrix is a valuable performance management, talent management, and employee engagement tool for managers. 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?
The four quadrants of the Skill Will Matrix explained
History of the Skill Will Matrix
What is the difference between skill and will?
Applications of the Skill Will Matrix
How do you fill in a Skill Will Matrix?
Free Skill Will Matrix template
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: This person has the skills and motivation needed to succeed at work.
    • Talent management strategy: Delegate tasks to these individuals, allowing them autonomy and the opportunity to lead projects, as they are likely to handle responsibilities effectively.
  • Quadrant II: Low Skill, High Will: The employee doesn’t have all the skills they need to perform, but they have the motivation needed to improve.
    • Talent management strategy: Guide them by providing training and continuous learning opportunities to develop their skills.
  • Quadrant III: Low Skill, Low Will: This worker lacks the skills needed to perform and the motivation to improve their skills.
    • Talent management strategy: Direct them with clear, structured tasks and close supervision to ensure compliance and encourage skill development.
  • Quadrant IV: High Skill, Low Will: This person has the skills to perform in their role but lacks the motivation to do so.
    • Talent management strategy: Excite them by aligning tasks with their interests or career goals and recognizing their achievements to boost engagement.
The Skill Will Matrix with four quadrants based on the levels of skill and will in employees.

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 the Skill Will Model 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 work with to engage their employees.

The four quadrants of the Skill Will Matrix explained

Let’s take a look at the four quadrants of the Skill Will Matrix, the characteristics of employees in each, and respective management strategies in more detail.

Quadrant I: High Skill, High Will

  • Possesses the skill and will to perform
  • Seeks new opportunities to grow
  • Eager to learn and develop new skills
  • High motivation and drive
  • High performer and achiever

Talent management strategy: Delegate

An employee in this quadrant needs less of a coach and more of a mentor. Encourage and empower them to adopt a self-coaching approach, but always be available for them if they need advice or guidance. 

Quadrant II: Low Skill, High Will

  • Has the desire to complete tasks but lacks the skills to do so
  • High enthusiasm
  • Strong desire to succeed and excel at work
  • Tends to be new to a career or job level

Talent management strategy: Guide

Give this employee as many opportunities as possible to develop their skills and encourage them to take managed risks, which they can learn from. 

Quadrant III: Low Skill, Low Will

  • Lacks the skills and motivation to perform
  • May have failed before and be afraid to fail again
  • Could be in the wrong role or be a poor fit for the team or organization
  • May be reluctant to ask for help

Talent management strategy: Direct

Working with someone in this quadrant will require the most time and effort. Set clear expectations and deadlines and closely monitor their progress. Encourage them to reach out for help when they need it. 

Quadrant IV: High Skill, Low Will

  • Possesses the skills to perform but lacks motivation
  • May have reached a plateau
  • May have had a recent manager/team change
  • In need of a new challenge

Talent management strategy: Excite

Figure out what motivates this employee, then link this to their role to boost engagement. Work together to reduce anything in their role or working environment that is having a negative impact on their motivation. 

History of the Skill Will Matrix

Organizations have been using the Skill Will Matrix for 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.

It describes for types of leadership behaviors tailored to meet the varying readiness levels of followers:

  • Directing: The leader provides specific instructions and closely supervises performance, ideal for followers who are enthusiastic but lack specific skills.
  • Coaching: While still providing direction, the leader encourages two-way communication, offers support, and helps build the confidence and motivation of followers who are attempting to build their skills.
  • Supporting: The leader facilitates and supports followers’ efforts towards task completion and shares responsibility for decision-making with them. This is suitable for followers who have developed abilities but lack commitment.
  • Delegating: The leader offers less guidance, giving followers the responsibility for decisions and execution of the work. It’s best suited for followers who are highly competent and motivated.

The Situational Leadership Model is illustrated below, and if you compare it to the Skill Will Matrix above, you can see the similarities.

The Situational Leadership Model is the basis of the Skill Will Matrix.

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, advanced, 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:

Employee development and training

Identifying where employees fall on the Skill Will Matrix enables managers to tailor learning and development opportunities that cater to their individual needs. For example, an employee with high will and low skill may find technical training beneficial, while an employee with high skill and low will may benefit from motivational initiatives.

Performance management

The Skill WIll Matrix can help managers understand the root cause of performance issues by separating skill and motivational deficiencies. This allows interventions to be more targeted, for example, coaching and skill-building activities for those with low skill or motivation-boosting strategies for those with high skill but low will.  


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 fewer in others after the restructure. A Skill Will Matrix will help leaders make decisions that support new organizational objectives and retain key employees.

New team members

It takes time to learn the skills, work habits, and learning styles of a new team member. The Skill Will Matrix can give managers a headstart in understanding an employee’s strengths, motivations, and preferred styles of communication and leadership. 

Better leadership

Using this framework helps managers communicate with and develop their team using the appropriate talent management strategy (Guide, Delegate, Direct, or Excite). These conversations help to uncover employees’ hidden strengths, which enables managers to place them in a position where they can flourish. 

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.

How do you fill in a Skill Will Matrix?

Here are some key steps to follow when filling in a Skill WIll Matrix for an employee. HR can teach managers how to do this, so they can better support and lead their team.

  • Identify criteria: Determine the specific criteria that will be used to measure skill and will in your employees. For example, to measure skill, you might look at technical ability, experience, or quality of past work. To measure will, you might look for ways to assess enthusiasm, commitment, and initiative at work. It’s important that these criteria are tailored to align with the specific roles and responsibilities within the team.
  • Assess each employee: Once you’ve identified your criteria for skill and will, you can evaluate each team member against it. This evaluation should be as objective as possible, potentially incorporating performance data, project outcomes, feedback from peer reviews, self-assessments, and direct observations. Place each employee in one of the four quadrants on the Skill Will Matrix.
  • Introduce calibration sessions: In these sessions, managers can discuss their assessments with peers or HR to ensure consistency and fairness in how criteria are applied. This helps in aligning the evaluations across different teams and departments, reducing bias.
  • Plan development approaches: For each quadrant, decide on suitable talent management strategies that can help to develop that set of employees. For example, mentoring, setting goals, and increasing motivation.
  • Review and adjust: As you work to develop your employees, review where they are placed in the matrix. The goal is to help each team member progress towards the High Skill, High Will quadrant, indicating they are both capable and motivated.
Skill Will Matrix Template

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-month 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 appropriate 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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Rhonda Gardner

Rhonda Gardner has been a HR Professional for the past 19 years in diverse industries such as Banking & Insurance, Professional Consulting Services, and INGOs. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States of America.

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