In Danny Meyer’s interview on the Tim Ferris podcast, Danny shares the world’s simplest 2×2 for how to think about who on your team to invest in, and how much of your time and energy to give them.
The CAN / CAN’T describes the person’s skill. The WILL / WON’T describes their will.
This gives us a shortcut to understand the people on our teams, those who:
- CAN and WILL: highly skilled and highly motivated. Your top performers today.
- CAN’T and WILL: people who don’t have the skills but are highly motivated to learn them.
- CAN and WON’T: people who have the skills but are unmotivated / have a bad attitude.
- CAN’T and WON’T: people who have neither the skills nor the will.
How to Spend Your Time?
The first question Danny poses is: how should you spend your time as a supervisor? His answer (which I agree with) is that he has the most time for the people on the top half of the chart, those who:
- CAN’T but WILL: people who are super-motivated to learn, but just don’t have the specific skills today. It’s hard to teach motivation, dedication, professionalism and pride; it’s much easier to teach skills.
- CAN and WILL. In some ways it’s easy to just “leave these people alone” because they’re crushing their jobs, but this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Give them attention, praise them, nurture them, both for the impact this has on them directly and because of the positive multiplier effects this will have on your culture.
Then we get to the bottom part of the chart. This is where moving decisively is important, around those who:
- CAN and WON’T: folks who have the skills but are unwilling or unmotivated. These individuals are likely a drain on your culture, though it’s easy to get tricked into thinking you need to keep them, because they are so skilled. This is a trap.
- CAN’T and WON’T: a simple category, and where you need to move fastest. These people drag down any organization.
From 2-D to 3-D
Now, there’s the 3-D chess version of this, which is where things get really interesting.
This is another way to illustrate the concept of situational leadership, which is one of the most useful approaches to managing others with the world’s worst diagram.
Here’s my take on how to illustrate this:
The idea is that each person cannot accurately be plotted on a 2D graph of skill and will.
Instead, each job requires a collection of attributes, and each person will plot to a different point for each attribute. For example, a member of your team might show:
- High will and skill doing analytical tasks
- High will but low skill in drawing cross-cutting insights from those analytical tasks
- High skill but low will in checking others’ work for errors
- Low skill and low will in client relations
How to Manage in Each of the Four Quadrants
In my version of the chart, above, you would mentally plot each of these four skills—analytical tasks, insight generation, checking others’ work, and client relations—on one of the graphs, and, as a supervisor, you’d work with your team member differently on each of the tasks. The supervisor’s job is to be:
- DIRECTIVE for low skill, low will tasks
- COACHING for low skill, high will tasks
- SUPPORTING for high skill, low will tasks
- DELEGATING for high skill, high will tasks
This is what’s explained in the terrible (but useful) standard illustration of situational leadership. Each quadrant describes three things: the employees’ skill, her will, and her bosses’ desired behavior when working with her on a task in each of the four quadrants.
Pulling it All Together
Our job, then, is to have a mental model of how we think about the skill and will of our employees and use that to determine, in the broadest sense, who to invest in and how much time to give them. This is what Danny Meyer is talking about, starting in minute 50 of the podcast.
And, at a more granular level, both employees and their supervisors have a nuanced job to do as they show up to work each day: diagnosing different requirements of the job across skill and will; communicating this diagnosis to one another; and then using that mapping to partner differently in support of the execution of tasks and the development of these various skills.
It becomes clear pretty quickly—especially as we think about this over time—what a gross simplification it is to talk about “good” and “bad” employees; or to talk about whether it’s better to be a “hands on” supervisor or one who “gives lots of freedom.”
The reality is that people are a collection of attitudes and abilities for different things: we might love sitting in front of a spreadsheet and hate managing teams; love building relationships and hate writing a budget. Our skills, our willingness to deploy these skills, and the collection of skills that make up our jobs is constantly evolving.
The one constant that bridges people through all of this evolution—from one role to the next and to the next; from one set of skills to the next and to the next—is the willingness to keep on doing one’s best and to continually learn.
And the best bosses are the ones who realize that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to management, just as there’s no team member who has mastered all the skills she could possibly learn.