The 9 Box Grid Unfolded (And Why You Shouldn't Pass It On)
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 setting sail, let's start with defining our subject.
📦 What is the 9 box grid?
Designed by GE and McKinsey in the '70s, the 9 box grid — or 9 box model — 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.
So, calling the 9 box model a "performance-potential matrix" is totally accurate.
In other words, you 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 to be today, or how you anticipate that they're going to perform in the future.
When you're evaluating employees' performance and potential, you're preparing to make reasoned decisions. And these are a couple of the decisions you can make after using the 9 box model:
- Keep average performers with low potential on your team.
- 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.
🎉 Benefits of the 9 box grid
Let us give you a few reasons why many HR professionals use the 9 box model.
- It's straightforward. Each category in the model is self-explanatory, and the model is very easy to read.
- It's versatile. Besides employee development and performance management, you can use the 9 grid model for succession planning and leadership development. Call it a "9 box leadership model" or "9 box succession planning model" if you wish. This means that based on potential assessment, you can realize that certain employees may perform certain positions in the future. As a result, you can plan for the succession of the employees in those positions. You can also identify employees with leadership potential and develop their management skills with training.
- It's balanced. Because it's a performance-potential matrix, the 9 box model doesn't only evaluate past performance. It also determines your employees' growth potential by predicting future performance.
- It supports decision-making. The 9 box grid works as a talent grid. It helps spot the best talent within your company and select the employees who deserve a promotion. It also assists with identifying the underperformers who need to step up their game.
⚙️ How to create a 9 box model
There isn't a single 9 box model. You can name each of the nine categories in the model as you wish and as it makes more sense to your organization.
However, any 9 box grid contains three employee performance levels by three growth potential levels. Then, each box in the grid represents the intersection of one performance with one potential level.
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
- Don't compromise the success of your company and your investment in employees with more potential
- Make sure that other employees don't cover for these ones
- Offer them another position that matches their profile, but only if they demonstrate excitement about switching roles and the position is open
2. ➡️ Average performance, ⬇️ low potential
- Don't invest a lot of time and money in training these employees
- Create an individualized performance improvement plan for them
- Track and document their development
3. ⬆️ High performance, ⬇️ low potential
- Keep these employees satisfied with their job
- Don't reward them excessively with salary raises, bonuses, or promotions to roles of high responsibility
- 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
- Clarify job expectations
- Ensure that their employee satisfaction is in good shape
- Train them, whether online or in person, on the job or off of it
- Offer them high-performance coaching by a colleague high-performer or external certified coach
- Give them job rotation opportunities that might raise their performance
- Expand their tasks as long as that makes sense for their role
- Recognize their performance achievements and contributions to the organization's goals, consistently
- Measure their performance
6. ⬆️ High performance, ➡️ average potential
- Check in with them frequently to feel the temperature of their employee satisfaction and engagement
- Maintain their satisfaction at work high
- Praise their performance regularly
- Find out extra ways of keeping their employee engagement levels healthy in the long run
- Grant them time to develop into their full potential
- Challenge them with job rotation
- Assign them new tasks that match their role yet belong to a different project or business unit
- Upskill them with training or a mentor who inspires them to elevate their potential
7. ⬇️ Low performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Inform these employees of your expectations for their role
- Give them time to step up at work, but expect them to increase their performance in a matter of months
- Monitor their performance continuously
8. ➡️ Average performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Be patient because they'll improve their performance
- Determine if there are any specific training needs and assign training resources for them
- In the meantime, follow the same steps we recommended for average performers with average potential
9. ⬆️ High performance, ⬆️ high potential
- Appreciate these employees' work strongly
- Assess their job happiness frequently
- Challenge them with more complex and demanding tasks
- Propose them to take on a new role if their profile fits into your current vacancies
- Include them in your succession plans
- Provide networking opportunities and mentorship with other valuable yet senior leaders of your company
- Reward them with a competitive salary
📏 How do you do a 9 box assessment?
Using the 9 box grid is pretty simple.
You score employees on the three-point performance scale and then on the three-point growth potential scale.
- How do you do that exactly?
- And what do you do after categorizing your employees according to the model?
Well, that's what we're about to find out.
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, timely 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
Depending on how you defined the performance levels in your 9 grid model, use job responsibilities, individual performance goals, or both to appraise your employees' 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 for their role?
- 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. But if they don't, look for the job descriptions or talk to the managers, and you should get that information.
3. Classify growth potential
Define the personality traits associated with the growth potential levels you specified before. Then, decide where each of your employees stands at those levels.
For instance, define the behaviors associated with an employee who has high potential. These employees pursue learning opportunities, build their skills, and apply that knowledge. Therefore, if they reveal these behaviors, you have evidence that they strive for growth:
- They ran out of the training budget you offered them for the year or quarter.
- They proactively ask you to sponsor a professional certificate program.
- They take the initiative to enroll in your training programs.
- They expressed their desire to climb up the ladder of your company.
4. Sort employees into categories
Ranking your employees according to the 9 box grid leads you to conclude which box they're at.
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 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.
Make it a quarterly routine to provide feedback regularly.
5. After the assessment
There's still lots to do once you categorize your employees according to performance and growth potential.
Gather with managers, team leaders, directors, and in some cases, other top executives to
- Examine results
- Debate next steps for employees with low performance and low growth potential
- Select employees who will get a salary raise, bonus, or promotion
- Decide if it makes sense for each average performer — and perhaps, low performers with average or high potential — to switch position, project, team, or department.
- Feed the aspiration for promotion of eligible employees with job rotation and job enlargement (if you notice they're up for it).
- Adjust training plans and employee development plans according to how you classified your staff members against the 9 box model.
- Propose job-specific or leadership training, coaching, or mentoring programs to suitable employees.
- Design succession plans for employees with high performance and high growth potential.
- Clarify job expectations with each employee individually if that applies.
- Improve your onboarding experience and other aspects that are up to you or the leaders of your organization.
6. Disclose growth potential
Some companies don't disclose the growth potential level of each employee. Most certainly, this won't compromise their motivation. But it won't give employees a clear view of what their future performance looks like either. And that's important.
The growth potential level is a guideline to raise their performance and develop them as professionals. So, hiding their potential level is missing out on an opportunity for continuous improvement at work.
Bottom line: Our advice is to present your assessment results to employees with a positive attitude. Focus on the aspects they can get better at and help them figure out how to do that.
7. Communicate promotion-readiness
Another piece of advice we have for you about communicating 9 box grid assessments is containment. We mean refraining from mentioning to employees that it's time to promote them.
Make the announcement only after a position opens. Otherwise, employees might feel frustrated over time or leave the organization because of unsatisfied expectations.
Lack of work experience might translate to low performance and high potential. But employee development can boost performance while maintaining growth potential at a high level.
〰️ Limitations of the 9 Box Model
The 9 box grid is not all benefits. It has its drawbacks too, which you should be aware of and ready to tackle.
- It doesn't suggest specific measures. Although the model establishes performance and growth potential levels, it doesn't suggest assessment criteria. This means it doesn't indicate how to position employees at each level. Therefore, you have to define criteria before evaluating employees. That's how the process will be objective and reliable.
- It's prone to biases. The 9 box model is not objective per se. Nevertheless, you can reduce its subjectivity by focusing on facts and numbers and trying hard to detect and eliminate favoritism. Besides defining assessment criteria, involving leaders of your company when categorizing employees will help you eliminate biases.
- It can appraise potential inadequately. Whereas most organizations and HR managers clearly understand performance, that doesn't hold true for growth potential. That's why it's hard to define growth potential criteria and especially important to call for the participation of your company's leaders.
- It labels employees. Fitting an employee in a box might naturally influence their managers' perception of them. So, it's your job to evangelize your organization's leaders for the continuous improvement of their team members. Make it very clear that they must convey a positive message and recommend actions to boost performance and develop potential.
👀 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 a variety of 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 a 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 peer review employee performance and not 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.
360 feedback 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.
Additionally, 360 feedback 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).
As an alternative to the 9 grid model, the employee scorecard offers a more straightforward and objective approach to measuring employee performance.
A core element of the 9 grid model is assessing employees based on their potential for future performance. However, this approach is subjective and can lead to biases, such as favoring employees who are more like the evaluator or who have been with the company longer.
In contrast, the employee scorecard relies on specific metrics and KPIs to measure and evaluate employee performance, which can help to eliminate biases and provide a more accurate assessment of an employee's strengths and weaknesses.
Plus, companies can customize the scorecard to fit the organization's specific needs and goals, making it a flexible and adaptable tool for evaluating employee performance.
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.
As an alternative to the 9 box model, the FourVision talent matrix provides a more nuanced and detailed approach to evaluating employee performance and potential.
The FourVision talent matrix considers multiple dimensions of employee performance and potential, providing a more comprehensive and balanced assessment of an employee's talent and potential. Additionally,
companies can customize this framework to fit the organization's specific needs and goals, making it a flexible and adaptable tool for managing and developing talent.
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:
- Energy: The ability to bring passion, enthusiasm, and intensity to work.
- Energize: The ability to inspire and motivate others.
- Edge: The ability to make tough decisions and take calculated risks.
- 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 provides a more comprehensive and balanced approach to evaluating 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.
➡️ Nurture each one of your employees with Zavvy
The 9 box grid might be your starting point for measuring performance and growth potential, but it's just a framework.
The follow up is essential! And that's where Zavvy comes 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 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.
👀 Take a look at it in a free demo!
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 the 9 box grid is 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.