Advanced Skill-Will Diagnostics: Distinguishing Habits from Values, Incentives from Attitudes

Earlier this year I spent some time exploring the Skill-Will Matrix from the employee’s point of view, that is to say, the point of view that this classic model is typically NOT presented from.  I also lightly brushed on the diagnostic element — every consultant and their grandmother knows how to use Skill-Will Matrix as a coaching tool (and it’s ok if you don’t, I’ll review it in a minute) — but how many people really know how to make an assessment with it, especially on that vague, slippery dimension of “Will” or “willingness?”  More to the point, how can we create accurate self-assessments that align with this model?

Let’s review the model, and what these terms “Skill” and “Will” actually mean:

The implications of this model are that there are different ways you’d want to deal with each situation if you are a manager (or, if you are self-managed, see the aforementioned post). Here is my rendering of the typical “situational leadership” or “coaching styles” model, based on the Skill-Will Matrix:

Ok, great. We’ve got it summarized neatly into one nice little graphic. Now, let’s take a closer look at these two dimensions of “Skill” and “Will” and try to figure out what it would take to make an accurate assessment (or self-assessment)… because the utility of this model absolutely depends on the ability to make accurate assessments.  (That’s why in management training, the Skill-Will Matrix is often followed by a lecture on the Pygmalion Effect… getting this stuff wrong is bad for everyone’s health!)

The dimension of “Skill” refers to one’s ability, proficiency, facility or dexterity in a given capability… a “capability’ being some bit of knowledge or behavior that the person can demonstrate.

Where does “Skill” come from?   It is acquired or developed through training/learning, understanding, latent talent or experience.

What are some of the things a coach can do to enhance “Skill?”    They can…

  •   provide tools and resources to develop the capability
  •   reduce obstacles and facilitate a learning pathway
  •   provide effective guidance and feedback

Ok, that was easy… and you could see how easy it would be to assess the level of a person’s Skill:  If they demonstrate it, they can do it.

If they don’t demonstrate it, though, it may or may not be because they lack the Skill.

Enter the wonderful world of “Will”….

The dimension of “Will” refers to one’s motivation, volition, inclination or desire to achieve, to initiate (and sustain, despite obstacles) a given capability… this includes actions such as taking on new responsibilities or new learning.

Where does “Will” come from?  It is acquired or developed as a result of beliefs, values, attitudes, habits and incentives.

What are some of the things a coach can do to enhance “Will?”  They can…

  •   provide appropriate incentives and sense of safety
  •   reduce obstacles or other de-motivating factors
  •   provide encouragement
  •   facilitate intrinsic motivation

Ok, but how does one measure or assess “Will?”  Notice some of words I chose to use above:  beliefs, incentives, habits, attitudes, values… each of these words has a distinct meaning and each provides a potential means for measurement and assessment.

“Oh, BIHAV!”

Beliefs inform a person’s willingness to do something, and a person’s beliefs can be measured by asking questions directly to the person being measured.  There are all sorts of beliefs that can affect one’s willingness to initiate or sustain an activity, and one of those beliefs is called “self-efficacy,” which is our belief in our own ability or capacity do to something.  Interestingly, the self-efficacy component of belief is connected at the hip with the observable “Skill” dimension. Am I good at something because I believe I’m good at it (or can be good at it)? ..or do I believe I’m good at it because I actually am good at it?  See, it’s a feedback loop, and so for most people there is a strong upwards (left-to-right) diagonal correlation between “Skill” and “Will.”  That’s why typical Likert-scale-driven  “Please rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5” skills assessments can sometimes provide a fair approximation of overall competency… but always remember those are measures of self-perception of efficacy, not actual efficacy.

Incentives, on the other hand, are a whole different ballgame. Incentives exist externally — they are part of the overall performance context — and  they can block or enable behavior very easily. The great news is that these can be measured through direct observation and context analysis… no interpretive self-assessments necessary.  Millions of dollars in training could be saved each year if companies paid more attention to what behaviors they were tacitly rewarding vs. punishing. Also, remember that measurement and observation is itself an incentive, so go on and measure away, your clients can thank you later.

Habits are trickier to measure, as the target capability itself must be measured, which gets into the fuzzy territory of “which part of this performance/non-performance came as a result of Skill versus Will?”  Perhaps habits are merely an effect of Skill… a manifestation of Skill that has been… habitualized?    No, not quite.  I think that habits, by themselves, are also a major causal factor of “Will” since we are willing to do things (or don’t do things) simply because we’re used to (or not used to) doing those things….  sheer habit drives our motivation. Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty blurry distinction.   Perhaps behavioral frequency analysis (“how often do you…”), particularly on subordinate skills (the sub-components of the target behavior) would provide some measurable inputs here. Worst case, trying to measure people’s habits will cause you to develop some decent hooks for that all-important-but-hard-to-make-credible ROI Analysis, which is currently replete with rainbows and unicorns.

Attitudes are different than beliefs in that they aren’t necessarily grounded in anything other than a person’s mood, temperament, reaction to circumstances, or even simply physiology… how long has it been since that last cup of coffee/sugary doughnut/visit to the gym/hug from a friend?  Attitude is a managed state (though many people have a hard time managing it) which directly impacts the “Will” component of performance.   The great news is that it’s easy to learn how to manage your attitudinal state, and therefore your performance at any task. Now for the bad news:  Your attitude is almost impossible for you to objectively self-assess. Direct observation of you — particularly under challenging situations — is probably the only way to go on this one… or maybe I could simply ask you this question: “How much do you enjoy doing [insert capability being measured]?”   Pure enjoyment, excitement, boredom, etc.  might be good emotions to look for… though it does bleed a bit into my fifth and final component of “Will” which is…

Values. These are a wonderful thing. Are you willing to do something because you think it’s a good/useful/fun thing to do?  Values run deeper than beliefs, though there is definitely some overlap there (..hey, I don’t get as good an acronym if I combine the concepts.. BIAH??)  but I think that values have to do more with the person’s perception of the task or capability itself, rather than their perception of their own abilities or their organizational context. In that sense values represent a very different type of opinion measurement:  “How important is this to you / the business?”   So values get measured similarly to beliefs, though it can be extremely difficult to get an honest self-assessment on values… I prefer to used forced-ranking / prioritization between items on a list, and then index those results to a baseline and top line score of “importance” or “value” for everything on the list.  This sort of thing is best done a few items at a time. Forced-choice responses with an asymmetrical word pairing (a-la StrengthsFinder) are the best, but those assessments take forever to build and almost-forever to complete.

So those are five measures you can use to quantify “Will.”

Of course, if you only need to assess just one person’s level of willingness, ditch all that stuff above and simply ask them a series of good, open-ended coaching questions… however, even that isn’t so easy to do…

What do you think?


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on November 3, 2010, in Analytics, Business, Learning, Talent and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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