The 9 Box Grid: How to Use It, Practical Template, And Alternatives
💡 The 9-box grid (or model) is a talent management method for identifying high potentials and developing people more strategically.
📊 Fundamentally, it's a 3x3 performance-potential matrix that lets talent teams group employees and tailor measures more precisely to them.
📝 Our free Excel template is the quickest way to get started.
Now here's an HR tool that can help you on many fronts!
- Develop talent? Check.
- Manage performance? Check.
- Succession plan? Check.
- Develop your leaders of tomorrow?
Check, check, check!
The 9 box model can be your ally when building a bulletproof, engaged workforce.
We'll see how exactly, but before that, let's define our subject.
📦 What is the 9 box grid?
As the complexity of managing multiple business units began overwhelming corporations in the 20th century, there was a pressing need for strategic tools to navigate this challenge.
The answer came in the form of the GE–McKinsey nine-box matrix, innovatively crafted in the early 1970s by McKinsey alumnus Kevin Coyne for their work with GE.
This groundbreaking model, conceived shortly after the renown of the Boston Consulting Group’s growth share matrix, presented companies with a systematic method to evaluate and prioritize their investments across diverse business units.
Today, the 9 box grid is a framework for employee development, performance, and succession planning.
The "9" comes from dividing employees into nine groups according to their performance and growth potential. That’s why the 9 box model is also called the "performance-potential matrix."
You can use the 9 box grid to take a snapshot of two things:
- Your employees' performance since you hired them or the last time you reviewed their performance.
- How promising they seem today, or how you anticipate that they will perform in the future.
When evaluating employees' performance and potential, you're preparing to make informed decisions. Here are some of the decisions you can make after using the 9 box model:
- Track average performers with low potential to measure their progress.
- Promote high performers with high potential.
- Develop high performers with high potential into leadership roles.
- Define an employee performance improvement plan for low performers with low potential.
🎉 5 Benefits of the 9 box grid
The 9-box grid model isn't just another HR tool—it's a strategic asset that offers many advantages for talent management. Adopted by numerous HR professionals worldwide, here are some of the key reasons why this model stands out:
- Simplicity at its best: The model is intuitive and user-friendly. Each segment within the grid is clearly defined, making it effortless to interpret and apply.
- Multifunctional use: Beyond its primary use for gauging performance and potential, the 9-box grid can serve as a strategic tool for leadership development and succession planning. Its versatile nature lets you forecast potential future roles for employees based on their assessed potential. This foresight allows proactive planning for transitions and the nurturing of budding leaders through targeted training.
- Holistic assessment: The dual-axis approach of the 9-box model ensures a balanced evaluation. It doesn't solely rest on historical performance data but also factors in an employee's potential, offering a predictive perspective on their future contributions.
- Facilitates strategic decision-making: Serving as an insightful talent map, the 9-box grid highlights top-performers ripe for promotion, as well as those who might need to elevate their contributions. This clarity aids in making informed personnel decisions.
- Promotes organizational alignment: By identifying where each employee stands in performance and potential, the organization can align its talent development strategies with overarching business goals. This alignment ensures employees grow in sync with the company's vision and objectives.
⚙️ How to create a 9 box model
While the foundational principles of the 9 box grid model are consistent, its adaptability is one of its standout features.
Organizations have the freedom to label each of the nine categories in a way that aligns with their unique corporate language and objectives.
At its core, the 9 box grid is a matrix that intersects three distinct performance tiers with three levels of growth potential. Each box, therefore, encapsulates a specific combination of performance and potential, offering a nuanced snapshot of an employee's standing.
Define employee performance levels
These are the levels to measure employee performance:
- Low performance. The employee hasn't met the job responsibilities and individual performance goals.
- Average performance. The employee has partially met the job responsibilities and individual performance goals.
- High performance. The employee has met the job responsibilities and individual performance goals.
You can choose different criteria to define the performance levels. For instance, you might only rely on individual performance goals or job responsibilities.
Specify growth potential levels
Here are the levels to appraise your employees' potential to grow as professionals at your company:
- Low potential. The employee is doing their best, yet that's not enough. Either they're not motivated, or you don't expect them to grow further.
- Average potential. The employee has the potential to grow within their current role. You expect them to improve their performance or develop their expertise.
- High potential. The employee exceeds your expectations for the position. They reveal a natural excitement about leading projects or teams. Therefore, put them on the promotions list.
Determine performance-potential categories
Instead of naming each of the nine boxes, determine the strategy to develop employees who fall within each one.
1. ⬇️ Low performance, ⬇️ low potential
- Identify barriers to performing better and growing within the organization
- Ensure the company's success and resources aren't undermined by continual investment in low-potential employees.
- Prevent other employees from landing in this category.
- Offer them another position that matches their profile if they demonstrate excitement about switching roles.
2. ➡️ Average performance, ⬇️ low potential
- Allocate resources cautiously when considering extensive training for these employees.
- Create an individualized performance improvement plan for them.
- Track and document their development.
3. ⬆️ High performance, ⬇️ low potential
- Ensure these employees remain content in their current roles.
- Be cautious about granting significant salary increases, bonuses, or advancing them to high-responsibility positions.
- Incentivize them to develop themselves further.
- Prepare them to embrace changes that you anticipate for the future.
4. ⬇️ Low performance, ➡️ average potential
- Identify the causes of poor performance.
- Propose coaching or mentoring programs to these employees.
- Follow and register their progress.
5. ➡️ Average performance, ➡️ average potential
- Define clear role expectations.
- Prioritize maintaining their job satisfaction.
- Provide diverse training avenues, be it online, in-person, on-site, or external.
- Pair them with either a top-performing colleague or an external certified coach for advanced coaching.
- Offer job rotations that could potentially boost their performance.
- Broaden their responsibilities where it aligns with their role.
- Consistently acknowledge their accomplishments and how they advance the organization's objectives.
- Regularly assess their performance.
6. ⬆️ High performance, ➡️ average potential
- Regularly engage with them to gauge their job satisfaction and commitment.
- Prioritize maintaining their high satisfaction levels at work.
- Consistently acknowledge and commend their performance.
- Explore additional strategies to sustain employee engagement over time.
- Allow ample time for them to realize their utmost potential.
- Offer job rotations as a means to challenge them.
- Delegate tasks from different projects or units that align with their role.
- Provide advanced training or pair them with a mentor who can motivate them to further tap into their potential.
7. ⬇️ Low performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Clearly communicate your role expectations to these employees.
- Allow them a grace period to improve, but anticipate a noticeable boost in their performance within a few months.
- Keep a close eye on their performance progression.
8. ➡️ Average performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Be patient because they'll improve their performance.
- Determine if there are any specific training needs and assign these employees training resources designed for them.
- In the meantime, follow the same steps we recommended for average performers with average potential.
9. ⬆️ High performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Recognize and praise their outstanding efforts.
- Regularly gauge their level of job satisfaction.
- Assign them tasks that are both intricate and challenging.
- Consider them for available roles if they align with their skill set.
- Factor them into your succession planning.
- Offer chances to network and be mentored by the company's seasoned leaders.
- Compensate them with a market-leading salary.
📏 How do you conduct a 9 box assessment?
The 9 box grid method is pretty straightforward at a glance — rating employees based on performance and potential, each with a three-tier scale. But there's a bit more to it:
- Scoring mechanism: How exactly do we evaluate and position an employee on these scales? What criteria should be considered?
- Post-evaluation steps: Once everyone has been mapped out on the grid, what comes next? How can this categorization be utilized to nurture talent and enhance the organization?
Let's delve into the specifics of the 9 box grid assessment and how to make the most of it.
1. Before you start the assessment
If you work with a team of HR professionals, it's paramount to review your assessment methodology with them. And if you have new team members who don't know the 9 box model yet, train them on how your organization approaches it.
As to the rest of your crew, refresh their memory of the criteria you'll use to position employees along the performance and growth potential axes. Give plenty of examples to illustrate those criteria!
2. Rate performance
You could also use specific 9-box assessment questions.
Here are ten examples of 9-box assessment questions:
- What is the employee's current level of performance in their role?
- How has the employee's role evolved over time?
- What is the employee's potential for growth and development within the organization?
- How does the employee's performance and potential compare to others in their role level?
- What is the employee's leadership potential?
- How well does the employee align with the organization's goals and objectives?
- Does the employee demonstrate a commitment to the company's values and culture?
- How well does the employee demonstrate proficiency in the required technical and soft skills?
- How well does the employee adapt to change and uncertainty?
- How effectively does the employee navigate challenging situations or projects?
Another alternative is checking the employees' performance plans because they contain the performance goals their manager determined for them.
Plus, performance plans should align with job responsibilities. If they don't, look for the job descriptions or talk to the managers, and you should get that information.
3. Classify growth potential
First, outline the characteristics tied to the growth potential levels you previously set. Next, gauge where each employee aligns within these levels.
Take, for example, defining traits of an employee with high potential. Such individuals often seek out learning experiences, enhance their skill sets, and utilize their newfound knowledge. If they exhibit these tendencies, it's a clear indicator of their drive for advancement:
- They ran out of the training budget you offered them for the year or quarter.
- They proactively asked you to sponsor a professional certificate program.
- They took the initiative to enroll in your training programs.
- They expressed their desire to climb up the ladder at the company.
4. Sort employees into categories
Ranking your employees according to the 9 box grid helps determine their specific position within the matrix.
Involve managers, team leaders, and possibly directors and other top executives in the process.
Because your goal is to evaluate employees' performance and growth potential thoroughly and without unconscious biases.
Assess employees per team, and don't move on to the following department unless you're done assessing all the teams in the current department.
Provide effective feedback every quarter.
5. After the assessment
After mapping out your employees based on their performance and potential growth, there's a comprehensive list of follow-up actions to undertake.
1. Collaborate with managers, team leaders, and potentially higher leadership tiers like directors and executives to:
- Review assessment outcomes.
- Discuss the future for employees showing low performance and potential.
- Identify those deserving a salary increment, bonus, or upward role shift.
- Consider role, project, or departmental changes for average performers and potentially for low performers who have medium to high growth prospects.
- For those displaying a keen interest in promotion, consider options like job rotations or expanding their responsibilities.
2. Modify training agendas and personal growth plans in alignment with the 9 box model evaluations:
- Recommend specialized training, leadership workshops, coaching, or mentoring sessions tailored to specific employees.
- Craft succession strategies for those with standout performance and potential.
- When necessary, discuss role expectations with each individual.
3. Enhance aspects like onboarding processes under your or the leadership's purview to elevate the overall employee experience.
6. Disclose growth potential
Some organizations choose not to reveal the assessed growth potential of their employees. While this might not directly impact their motivation, it does obscure their view of possible future performance trajectories.
Knowing one's growth potential can serve as a roadmap for enhancing performance and personal development. Keeping this information under wraps might deprive employees of a chance for consistent career growth at their workplace.
Bottom line: We suggest sharing the assessment outcomes with employees in a constructive manner. Emphasize areas of potential improvement and and help them figure out how to do that.
7. Communicate promotion-readiness
In communicating the outcomes of the 9 box grid evaluations, it's essential to practice containment. This means refraining from prematurely signaling to employees about impending promotions. It's wise to broach the subject only when a specific position is on the horizon. Preemptive discussions can lead to disillusionment or attrition when expectations aren't promptly met.
Remember, a lack of experience might currently show up as high potential with low performance. Yet, with the right development strategies, performance can be elevated without dimming that potential.
📝 Free 9-box template
Looking for a simple way to create the 9-box grid - without having to manually group people?
Please meet our spreadsheet template:
The template contains 2 versions:
Talent grid 9-box template
Pick this one, if you already have both numbers on a scale of 1-3
- ⌨ Input: Asks for concrete values for performance and potential for each employee on a scale of 1-3
- 🔀 Automatically groups people into boxes based on their scores
- ➗ Automatically calculates percentages for all groups.
Performance management 9-box template
Pick this one, if your performance number is calculated from multiple questions + on a bigger scale (e.g. 1-5)
In the context of performance reviews, you'll often collect more complex data.
"Performance" is often an average of multiple questions.
Plus, it's usually collected on a 5-point scale (not 1-3).
What it does:
- ⌨️ Input: Lets you enter performance as an average of multiple singular questions in the scale of your choice (e.g. 1-5)
- ➗ Automatically calculates the average
- ⚙️ Automatically adjusts the average to a 1-3 scale
- 🔀 Automatically groups people into boxes based on their scores
- ➗ Automatically calculates percentages for all groups.
➡️ Get the 9-box spreadsheet template. It's free!
〰️ Understanding the limitations of the 9 box model
The 9 box grid model, while immensely beneficial for talent management, is not without its limitations. Recognizing these drawbacks is essential to maximize its effectiveness and mitigate potential issues.
- Lacks explicit guidance: The model categorizes employees based on performance and potential, but it doesn't inherently provide the specific metrics or standards for these categorizations. While it offers a structure, organizations are responsible for defining the criteria for each box. Ensuring that these criteria are comprehensive and well-defined is crucial to maintain consistency and fairness in evaluations.
- Susceptibility to bias: Since the 9 box grid model is fundamentally interpretive, it can be swayed by subjective opinions or pre-existing biases. However, an objective approach can be fostered by basing evaluations on tangible data and evidence. Collaborative assessments, where multiple leaders weigh in on an employee's placement, can also help neutralize individual biases.
- Challenges in assessing potential: Performance is often easier to quantify than potential. Potential is forward-looking and more abstract, making it challenging to pinpoint and evaluate. For more accurate assessments, it's beneficial to incorporate insights from various leaders within the organization who can provide diverse perspectives on an employee's future prospects.
- Risk of labeling: The act of placing employees into specific boxes can inadvertently pigeonhole them, potentially influencing how they're perceived and treated by management. It's essential to remember that the 9 box grid model is a tool for development, not a fixed label. Advocating for a growth mindset within the organization is pivotal. Managers should be encouraged to view the model as a starting point, emphasizing the dynamic nature of performance and potential. They should be equipped to deliver constructive feedback and actionable recommendations to employees, fostering their continuous growth.
👀 Alternatives to the 9 box grid
The following frameworks are similar to the 9 box model:
360-degree feedback is a process in which an employee receives feedback from various sources.
Through this appraisal method, the employee's manager, colleagues, direct reports, customers, and vendors give constructive feedback about the employee's performance.
It is best practice to include reviewers that have been consistently and directly working with the reviewee for a predefined period.
The goal is to ensure that peers review employee performance and don't give high rankings due to friendships across teams.
As an alternative to the 9 box grid model, 360 feedback offers a more comprehensive and holistic approach to evaluating employee performance.
This approach solicits input from multiple sources across hierarchies and assesses an employee's performance across multiple dimensions. The multi-rater approach provides a more comprehensive picture of their strengths and areas for improvement.
Plus, it can help identify areas where an employee's perception of their performance may differ from how others perceive it, providing valuable insights for professional development and growth.
An employee scorecard is a tool some employers use to measure and track the performance of their employees against specific goals, objectives, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Compared to the 9 grid model, the employee scorecard offers a more direct and objective method for evaluating employee performance.
While the 9 grid model emphasizes potential, which can be subjective and prone to biases (like preference towards longer-tenured employees or those similar to the evaluator), the employee scorecard employs precise metrics and KPIs. This precision can reduce biases, presenting a clearer picture of an employee's strengths and shortcomings.
Furthermore, organizations can tailor the scorecard to align with their unique objectives and requirements, enhancing its adaptability for performance evaluations.
FourVision's 16 box talent matrix
FourVision's 16 box talent matrix is a tool used to assess and manage employee talent and potential.
The matrix is based on a 4x4 grid that places employees in one of 16 boxes based on their performance and potential in each of these dimensions.
The FourVision talent matrix includes the following four dimensions:
- Performance: This dimension measures an employee's current level of performance, typically based on objective metrics and KPIs.
- Behavior: This dimension measures an employee's behavior and how well they align with the company's values and culture.
- Skills: This dimension measures an employee's skills and competencies, including both technical and soft skills.
- Potential: This dimension measures an employee's potential for future growth and development within the organization.
In contrast to the 9 box model, the FourVision talent matrix offers a richer, multifaceted method for assessing employee performance and potential.
This matrix delves into various aspects of an employee's abilities and potential, offering a well-rounded evaluation.
Moreover, organizations have the flexibility to tailor this framework to their distinct objectives and requirements, ensuring its versatility in talent management and development.
Jack Welch's performance-values matrix
Jack Welch's performance-values matrix, also known as the 4E-1P framework, is a tool used to evaluate and manage employees based on their performance and alignment with the company's values.
The "4E" in the framework stands for the following four traits that Welch believed were essential for top performers:
1) Energy: The ability to bring passion, enthusiasm, and intensity to work.
2) Energize: The ability to inspire and motivate others.
3) Edge: The ability to make tough decisions and take calculated risks.
4) Execute: The ability to deliver results and achieve goals.
The performance-values matrix is a de facto 4 box talent grid with the following quadrants:
- High performance and high values match: These employees are the "keepers" of the organization and should be rewarded and developed.
- High performance and low values match: These employees would benefit from coaching and the opportunity to improve their alignment with the company's values.
- Low performance and high values match: These employees should receive support for improving their performance through performance coaching and development.
- Low performance and low values match: These employees are not a good fit for the organization and should be let go.
As an alternative to the 9 box grid model, the performance-values matrix delivers a richer analysis of employee performance.
The performance-values matrix considers an employee's performance and alignment with the company's values, providing a more holistic assessment of their contributions to the organization.
As the framework emphasizes the importance of values alignment in addition to performance, it can help to reinforce the organization's culture and values.
➡️ 9-Box, spiderweb, skill matrix, and much more at a click
While the 9 box grid serves as an initial step in gauging performance and growth potential, it's merely a blueprint. The real magic happens in the follow-up, and that's where Zavvy steps in.
You can use our performance review software to:
- Fully customize your performance review system.
- Identify top performers and talent density.
- Fill that 9-box grid with valid data, not one-sided guesstimations. (You can make it 4-box or 16-box, if that's what better suits your needs).
- Spot toxic leaders early.
Then, follow up with our development software, an engaging and customizable software solution for continuous employee development, feedback, and growth.
It'll help you take action on your 9 box model and skyrocket your staff's performance levels.
What is a potential vs. performance matrix?
A potential vs. performance matrix is a tool used to evaluate employee performance and potential based on current performance and potential for future growth and development.
The goal is to classify employees and assign specific 9 box development plans to enable development and performance improvement.
For example, those with high potential and high performance can further develop by taking leadership positions.
How do you conduct a 9 box grid?
To conduct a 9 box grid, you typically start by identifying the key criteria or dimensions needed to evaluate employee performance and potential, such as current performance, potential, skills, and behavior. Then, you plot each employee's position on the grid based on their performance and potential, using a matrix with three rows and three columns.
The goal is to identify employees with high potential and high performance, as these employees are often the ones with the most potential for growth and development within the organization.
Why is the 9 box model important?
The 9 box model is important because it provides a framework for evaluating employee performance and potential in a structured and consistent way. It can help organizations identify high-potential employees, develop succession plans, and make decisions about promotions, bonuses, and other forms of recognition.
Why is the 9 box grid outdated?
Some voices label the 9 box grid outdated because it can be overly simplistic and may not capture the full complexity of an employee's performance and potential.
Plus, the model is prone to biases, and employees can sometimes perceive it as punitive, particularly those placed in lower boxes.
What is a talent classification matrix?
A talent classification matrix is a tool used to classify employees based on their performance, potential, and other factors, such as skills and behavior.
The goal of a talent classification matrix is to identify employees with high potential and high performance and those who may need additional coaching or development to reach their full potential.
Is the 9 grid matrix the same as the high-potential high-performance matrix?
The 9 grid matrix is not necessarily the same as the high-potential high-performance matrix.
However, both models are used to evaluate employee performance and potential.
The high-potential high-performance matrix focuses explicitly on employees with demonstrated high potential for growth and development within the organization and high current performance levels.
So, you can consider the high-potential high-performance matrix a subset of the broader 9 grid matrix.