“The greatest good you can do another is not just share your riches, but to reveal him his own.”

– Benjamin Franklin

While I was at McKinsey, I was having trouble managing a new, very smart analyst fresh out of undergrad. A partner on the project took me aside and said, “Let me teach you about the will skill matrix.”

He whipped out a marker and drew a simple two-by-two with “will” on the vertical axis and “skill” on the horizontal, and labeled each axis low to high. He then said, “Ok, the analyst you’re having issues with is in this box, high skill but low will. He will poison this team if you don’t do anything. When others start seeing somebody not engaged, they become disengaged. The best thing to do is have a stern talk with him about his will on this project.”

Take a look at the will skill matrix visual below.

Will Skill Matrix

That day, I sat down with the analyst for a heart-to-heart conversation. I mimicked the partner and drew the will skill matrix on a whiteboard. I laid it out for him, “You are so talented and important to this team, but it just doesn’t seem like your heart is in this project…what gives?”

He took a moment and then responded, “My girlfriend just broke up with me at the beginning of this project, and it’s been rough for me.”

All of a sudden I understood his perspective and issues, it wasn’t me or the project that was impacting his will, it was something very personal to him. We talked for a few hours about relationships, life, and ultimately that he needed to put his energy into this project. He needed the talk, and we needed him engaged, and after the conversation, he gave 110% on that project.

The will skill matrix is a staple at McKinsey for quickly assessing team members on a project to determine the appropriate management actions. Organizations are the collective actions of individual team members. If the majority of an organization is made up of high performers, the organization will typically thrive. Strategic leaders need to continually assess their team members’ will and skill and engage in the appropriate action to improve the team’s collective will and skill.


What is the will skill matrix?

The will skill matrix is a simple framework to help assess and determine the appropriate course of action for team members. It measures their relative will and skill for a particular job or role. You define will as a team member’s desire, purposefulness, and determination in accomplishing their accountabilities. You define skill as their talent and ability to perform their accountabilities. Given a team member’s will and skill they can be segmented as:


High performers (challenge them)

Higher will and higher skill. High performers are typically role model team members who can be delegated more responsibilities and fully empowered. They should also mentor and train others.


Contributors (guide them)

Higher will and lower skill. Contributors are often good-natured team member who needs more training, mentoring and tools to improve their skills. They can typically be empowered for some accountabilities while necessitating more hands-on management for other accountabilities.


Potential detractors (motivate them)

Lower will and higher skill. Potential detractors have the skills to do a great job, but for whatever reason lack the will to put in their best effort. Potential detractors need additional motivation to improve their will, otherwise, they can often bring down team morale.


Low performers (direct them)

Lower will and lower skill. Low performers are typically in over their heads in their current role and have a negative attitude towards their role and often the organization. They need to quickly improve their will and/or skill; otherwise, they should typically exit the organization. Low performers need to be highly directed on many of their accountabilities until their will or skill improves. This is the one case where micromanagement may be necessary.


will skill matrix best practices



To get you going on assessing somebody’s will and skill, download the free and editable Will Skill Assessment Worksheet.


will skill matrix example template


Accountability will skill assessment

People are complicated with their mix of emotions, experience, perspectives, responsibilities, and capabilities. The will skill matrix can be helpful in diagnosing the performance of people by assessing their will and skill for each one of their accountabilities. Often, people’s performance can vary by accountability. The will skill assessment disaggregates a person’s accountabilities, asks for rank scores for will and skill by accountability, and then potential improvement actions. A manager can fill out the will skill assessment. It can also be used in a self-assessment.




 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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