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  • Writer's pictureRandy Field

A Simple Performance Analysis Tool - The Will/Can 2by2 Matrix

“You are leading a New Team!”

On the second day of a new job, you were chosen to be the leader of a new Best Practices team that included five outside consultants. There were no 360 reviews, performance evaluations or references available to understand the past performance of team members. Whether you are leading a company, department, internal team or external team; how do you manage? How can you evaluate the team members when other information is not available?

Most company reviews are completed quarterly or annually containing extensive detail: key performance indicators (KPIs), self-directed goals and compensation. Unfortunately, performance is not a straight-line event. There will be ups and downs between reviews. How do you manage these ups/downs? What action should you take when they occur? Many business decisions are simplified using a “2by2 matrix tool”.

The 2by2 Matrix Tool

The 2by2 matrix’s creation is attributed to Bruce Hendersen, Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG’s) founder, in the 1970s as a simple four quadrant tool to support business decisions based on the extremes of two co-dependent business criteria. The extremes are “high” and “low”. (see Fig. 1)

Today, the 2by2 matrix is a common business tool used for decision making.

· The upper left quadrant (High/High) is most desired. The values of both criteria are High.

· The lower left quadrant (High/Low) has areas of concern. The value of Criteria One is High but the value of Criteria Two is Low.

· The upper right quadrant (Low/High) has areas of concern, too. The value of Criteria One is Low but the value of Criteria Two is High.

· The lower right quadrant (Low/Low) is most problematic. The values of both criteria are Low.

The Simple Criteria for Performance Analysis

At any given time, a team member or employee “will or won’t” perform (Criteria One) – and/or, “can or can’t” (Criteria Two) perform the task that they were asked to complete.

Through a promotion, a manager has new direct reports. For an upcoming meeting the manager asks Chris to prepare a three slide PowerPoint presentation on his roles and responsibilities. Chris admits that he does not know how to use PowerPoint. Chris is willing to complete the task – he just can’t use PowerPoint. What should the manager do?

A salesperson, Sue, has been through the company’s training programs and is missing quota. She has not filled out her daily plan or followed the training. Sue can do these tasks – she just won’t.

Similar performance analysis can be used for software programmers (lines of code, documentation), call center representatives (attitude, compliance) and many other roles.

The Will/Can 2by2 Matrix

The simplest two criteria for Performance Analysis are “Will/Won’t” and “Can/Can’t” (see Fig. 2).

This tool provides a framework for analysis.

• Will/Can: The team member will and does perform highly.

• Will/Can’t: The team member is willing to do their tasks. They just might not be good at it.

• Won’t/Can: The team member is capable – just won’t do it.

• Won’t/Can’t: The team member can’t do their tasks and won’t try.

So, you have placed Chris and Sue into the matrix. Now what?

The General Colin Powell Method

I attended a conference where General Powell was a keynote speaker. Every once-in-a-while, you experience a business practice that resonates. During his talk, General Powell discussed his approach to dealing with soldiers whose performance was sub-par. He said that he would meet with these soldiers, talk to them about their performance and give them three options. General Powell offered to move the soldiers to a different command, provide training or discharge them. He gave the soldiers the choice. If the soldiers chose moving or training and continued to exhibit poor performance, the soldiers would be discharged. General Powell made the soldiers “accountable” for their own future.

So, how does this fit into the Matrix? A team member that will do the task but just can’t, might benefit from training. A team member that won’t do tasks but can, might perform better somewhere else in the organization. A team member that won’t and can’t perform has a choice to make. There are always grey areas.

So, how do we keep team members that can and will perform optimally motivated? The Will/Can quadrant is often referred to as the “Star” quadrant. Optimal performance should be rewarded. (see Fig.3)

The Management Killer Quadrant – Won’t/Can

How many times have you had a direct report that you know could perform highly – but, they would not engage? I call this quadrant the “killer quadrant” because this is where managers spend a disproportionate amount of their time and energy. As managers, you have goals and performance criteria, too. So, in looking at your staff for ways to reach your goals, the natural tendency is to try and motivate the people that can help you get there. You write short-term goals, put them on probation or provide monetary incentives. In the end, these strategies often fail. In the meantime, a lot of time and energy has been lost. If possible, the best solution is to move them to a different team or assignment.

Some people perform better when working alone.

Sarah is a delivery van driver. She has an excellent record. She is on time, completes her reports and is great with customers. Then, Sarah gets a promotion to Accounts Receivable. She has the skills to perform highly – but, is showing up late to work. After meeting with Sarah, the manager learns that Sarah enjoys working directly with customers and being outdoors. Sarah should be moved back outside – perhaps as a field manager.

Making Borderline Decisions

You are on the fence with a team member. It is difficult to solidly place them in the Matrix. The second level step is to add scale. Using a ten-point scale, the Will/Won’t scale starts a one on the right and goes to ten on the left. The Can/Can’t scale starts at one on the bottom and goes to ten at the top. (see Fig. 4)

Chris is good at some tasks but not at others. He is willing to do the work. How do you measure Chris against others in a similar situation? Using the scale will provide some granularity. Once all team members are scaled, you might see “clusters” that highlight areas needing attention.

Two team members have formed a “clique” and are doing tasks their own way to the detriment of the team. They can be valued team members – they just won’t engage. Team morale is low. Moving them to another assignment and replacing them with other team members might be the best action.

The Will/Can 2by2 Matrix Tool vs. Performance Reviews

The Will/Can Matrix is not a replacement for Human Resources or Performance Reviews. It is a tool that can be used to better understand your team and notice shifts in performance. You will have a “tangible” tool to document your conclusions. Once a concern is identified, you can clearly communicate your view of a team member’s performance, empower them to help choose their future – and, TAKE ACTION.

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