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9-Box Grid

What is the 9-box grid?


The 9 box grid is a popular talent management tool that divides employees into nine groups based on their performance and potential.

Managers frequently focus on two factors when evaluating employee performance. First, how well they currently perform, and second, how well they are likely to perform in the future (i.e. their growth potential).

For instance, hardworking employees who perform well in their roles but have little room for advancement are ideal for your team, as are All-stars who perform well and have a lot of potential. Low-performing employees with low potential, on the other hand, will require a lot of management attention and are unlikely to improve. They necessitate a different approach.

The 9-box grid provides a framework for managing all employees in a company. 


How to create a 9-box grid


Developing your own 9-box grid entails evaluating each employee's performance and potential and then bringing it all together.


Assessing Performance


The performance boxes progress from low to moderate to high. Managers can use the information gathered and score employees based on this scale using your performance management system. 


  • Low performance. Employee does not meet the job requirements and fails to meet their individual goals.
  • Moderate performance. Employee partially matches the job requirements and their personal goals.
  • High performance. Employee fully meets the requirements of their job as well as their personal goals.


Using this structure is dependent on a strong job description and how your employee meets the position's requirements. Other organisations prefer to evaluate performance based on other factors, such as achievement of personal goals, collaboration with team members, and the results of 360-degree feedback. Keep in mind that with only three points—low, medium, and high—there isn't much room for variation between low and high performers. Managers may classify more employees as moderate when they should be classified as low.


Assessing Potential


The next step is to evaluate potential, which is scored similarly to performance—low, medium, and high. However, rather than simply tracking performance, assessing potential analyses performance review data and has managers interpret it to determine whether employees are currently working at their full potential, could be developed in their current role, or are eligible for promotion.


  • Low potential. Employee is performing to their full potential and is not expected to improve, either because they are at their maximum capacity or due to a lack of motivation.
  • Moderate potential. Employee has the potential to advance in their current position. This can be in terms of performance as well as expertise.
  • High potential. Employee is eligible for advancement either immediately or within the next two to three years.


Even if the process is the same, assessing potential is fundamentally different from assessing performance. A low or moderate performer may require additional training, clearer objectives, or may simply be unsuitable for the position. Potential refers to an employee's potential for advancement within the company. Employees labelled as low potential may already be operating at full capacity, as is required for their current positions. This isn't to say they're a bad hire; it just means they're unlikely to become members of your management team in the future. If, on the other hand, an employee is a low or moderate employee with high potential, the experience gained through development and goal setting could put them on the path to promotion in two to three years.


Putting it all Together


After evaluating both performance and potential, they are plotted on the 9 box grid. The talent matrix provides managers and human resources with a clear picture of where each of their employees stands. The best part is that employees' performance and potential can be assessed using any type of performance evaluation technique.


What are the advantages of 9-box grid


1. Being straightforward and simple to use


The 9-box grid model is a well-known tool with a simple and straightforward structure. All you have to do during an employee review is assign them to the appropriate box based on their performance and potential. Even for those who are completely new to this tool, the way the grid is visualised makes it simple to grasp.


2. Assisting in the identification of valuable talent


The 9 box grid enables you to identify high performers in your organisation who have great potential and identify what they need to improve in order to advance. You'll have data to support your decision about where and how to direct resources to engage and develop these employees. Furthermore, when internal promotions become available, you will know exactly who to offer these opportunities to.


3. A multifaceted approach to talent evaluation


This tool gives you a more comprehensive approach to performance management. You won't get caught up in any one aspect of an employee's performance, and you'll be able to assess both current and future potential.


4. A versatile tool


The 9 box talent grid is a versatile tool that can be used for both talent management and workforce planning. For example, this tool provides you with a good overview of your employees' potential and the positions in which they may thrive in the future. In other words, it facilitates succession planning. Alternatively, you can use the 9-box grid to identify employees with leadership potential and move them into management tracks.


9-box grid for succession planning


The 9 box grid can also be used for succession planning in organisations. Succession planning should centre on your stars, who excel in both performance and potential. These are the employees who will shape your company's future.

The 9 box grid is a tool that can be used to identify leadership potential. Through leadership development, (performance) coaching, mentoring, regular 360-degree feedback, and other feedback methods, the leadership talent is then groomed for more senior leadership positions.

The stars are the key employees in the succession matrix, which maps critical roles and different top employees based on their suitability for a role. When these positions become available, it indicates that there is talent available to fill these newly created positions.


What are the disadvantages of the 9-box grid


While the 9-box grid has its advantages, it also has some pitfalls. 


1. It is subjective


It is up to the manager to decide where an employee will be assigned. Despite the fact that the assessments are based on performance evaluations, determining potential may differ from person to person. One manager may regard an employee as having low potential, while another may regard the employee as having moderate potential. Many tools should be used when measuring or evaluating performance.


2. It does not assess aptitude


Just because an employee is a high performer with moderate to high potential does not imply that she or he is capable of managing others. A manager must be able to not only solve problems, but also manage stress, influence others, delegate, and be self-confident.


3. It lacks transparency


The lack of transparency provided by the 9-box grid is probably the most serious flaw. Even if they are high performers, an employee who learns they have low potential will be less engaged at work. Without clear communication about talent management practises, it may fall short of its goal and result in a system in which employees are ranked against one another and the employee at the bottom of the ranking is terminated.


4. It lacks "grey" areas


Every employee in every situation does not fit neatly into one of the nine categories. Before promoting or terminating an employee, additional discussions must take place. Perhaps those with the greatest potential are simply favourites of management. Perhaps low performers were not properly onboarded and trained. It's difficult to demonstrate potential when you're struggling to do your job. Employees who land in the lower left of the 9 box grid will not receive as much attention for improvement as those who land in the upper right.

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