Weird Manager Questions: The Energy/Skills Matrix

What’s a weird manager question? You know how you can read a management blog/book/podcast and want to try it out, but it feels… just a little too “out there”? Yeah, that. If you read 1:1 101, you know I like to ask predictable questions at my 1:1s so everyone knows what to expect, but I leave room at the end for “weird manager questions”.

If you’ve been waiting with bated breath since that came out, sorry for any lung damage, but I’m finally following up with a weird manager question series.

Origin Story for The Energy/Skills Matrix Weird Manager Question

Many, many moons ago as an individual contributor, I decided to lean into my strengths instead of spending time on my weaknesses, especially if there were other people on the team whose strengths complimented my weaknesses. I read about and completed a month-long exercise. Before going to lunch and before heading home each day, I would write down all the things that I did and I would categorize them against a grid like this:

matrix where the vertical axis goes from Things I'm Good At to Things I'm Not Good At, and the horizontal axis goes from Things That Energize Me to Things That Drain Me.

I called this grid the energy/skills matrix. After a month, I rolled up each day’s tasks & energy/skill level. It showed me that a couple of the things I am really good at actually tank my energy levels, so maybe I should find other people who are less tanked by those tasks and cross train them so that I don’t have to do it as often.

How to Use the Energy/Skills Matrix as a Weird Manager Question

I took this exercise and turned it into a weird manager question (but it’s really only good if you have at least 10 extra minutes). Here’s a rough outline of how I explain each step and what I’m looking for in responses:

  1. “List out all the tasks you do at work - from the project work to the administrative work, to the mentoring help you give your teammates - what are the things that take up your time.” Be sure to capture all of these, whether you’re just typing them into a text editor or writing them on sticky notes.
  2. Share some form of the energy/skills grid. This may be a shared Google Drawing file, a whiteboard for sticky notes - it doesn’t need to be fancy. “Here’s a grid - put each of those things into the quadrant that matches how you feel. ‘Things you are good at’ and ‘not skilled at’ is relative to how you feel about your development in skills, not how I or anyone else would evaluate you. And the energy stuff - it’s easy to think of the things we dread doing and go ‘that’s exhausting,’ but please also think about the hard stuff - the stuff you’re really good at but when you finish you are too exhausted to do anything else the rest of the day.”
  3. “Thank you for doing this weird manager question with me. This grid will help me when I’m delegating tasks. The things that both energize you that you are good at, I should put as many of those things in front of you as I can while still being fair to the team. The things you are skilled at but drained by, I should find someone who is energized and unskilled and pair you up so they can take those over from you. Things you are unskilled at and drained by, I should try my best to keep out of your path (again, while maintaining fairness to the team, and no, you can’t just not do your expense reports1).”

Wrap up

I hope you get good use out of this weird manager question - I found it most useful when I asked everyone on the team and then compared results, pairing up more senior folks who were tired of certain parts of their jobs with less experienced teammates who were more excited by the work. If you are wondering where all of your energy is going, I would recommend trying it out on yourself. Maybe even give the month-long version of the exercise a go!

  1. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other solutions available ↩︎