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  • Writer's pictureNauman Khan

9 Box Grid For Performance Management (Explained!)

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

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Performance assessment is one of the critical aspects of identifying whether your employees are achieving their full potential and are the right fit for their roles. A good performance assessment strategy will identify misalignments early, allowing you to get the most out of your employees.

However, performance analysis is more complex than it may seem. It often includes several abstract concepts, like engagement and employee initiative, that are difficult to quantitate objectively.

Not only are these factors intangible, but different HR professionals might also interpret them differently. Performance assessments can be as good as a shot in the dark without a solid plan.

The 9-box grid is a management framework to assess your employees’ contributions and predict their value to your organization. It provides a visual representation of the placement of your employees within the organization's structure in terms of talent, skills, and performance.

The model can be a great tool in the arsenal of any HR manager to gauge performances and build a strong team.

But what is the grid, and how does it work? In this article, let’s understand the system's advantages and drawbacks in managing talent.

What is the 9-box grid?

The model is a talent management and succession planning tool at its core. It provides a visual, structural framework to evaluate and categorize your employees based on their performance. It also lets you identify your team's key talent and leadership potential.

The model consists of a three-by-three matrix with two axes. The horizontal axis represents an employee's current performance level, usually measured against established performance metrics or goals.

The vertical axis represents an employee's future potential or ability to grow and take on additional organizational responsibilities.

The grid is divided into nine individual cells, forming a matrix. Each cell represents a unique combination of an employee's performance and potential and is labeled accordingly.

The labels vary depending on your preferences, but standard titles include High Potential/High Performance, High Potential/Low Performance, Low Potential/High Performance, and Low Potential/Low Performance.

Where a particular employee will be placed within the grid is determined by an assessment process.

You typically evaluate your employee’s performance through various matrices like appraisals, feedback from superiors and peers, and objective metrics.

You also ascertain the employee’s willingness to learn, adaptability, and capabilities before placing them within a specific box in the grid.

The goal of the 9-box grid in evaluating employee performance

The purpose of this grid is to give you a visual representation of your organization's talent pool.

When you categorize your employees in the different cells of the grid, it becomes easy to identify high-performers and those with the potential to take up future leadership roles.

Once you identify valuable talent in your organization using the grid, you can prioritize the development and grooming of the talent.

It also allows you to identify any employee with potential but who needs to perform better. You can then provide targeted talent development programs for such employees to unlock their full potential.

How to create the grid for assessing employee performance?

A nine-box grid is a three-by-three framework you can easily create using Kippy.

Kippy's Employee Rating report tabulates the performance of all your staff by KPI and Project performance, appraisals, and feedback.

Using the 9-box report in Kippy, you can also organize staff by KPI performance and appraisal competency scores.

The scores on the X-axis reflect the weighted average of all the KPIs assigned to each employee. These KPIs are easy to define and track in Kippy.

The score on the Y-axis reflect the weighted average of the competency based appraisal by the employee's manager. These appraisals are easy to define and conduct in Kippy.

The result is an always live view of staff performance on a 9-box grid which can even show how the employe is trending over time.

All aspects of the 9-box grid are totally configurable, and can be filtered to show groups of employees on the same view.

Here are some steps to help you create your 9-box grid:

1. Determine the criteria

Identify the specific criteria you want to use to evaluate employees. Typically, these criteria include performance, potential, or a combination of both.

Consider factors such as skills, experience, leadership ability, and future growth potential.

2. Define the rating scales

Establish a rating scale for each criterion to assess employees. For example, use a numerical scale or descriptive labels like "low," "medium," and "high" to rate performance and potential.

3. Create a grid

Draw a 3x3 matrix on paper or use a program like Kippy to create an automated digital grid. The vertical axis represents the level of performance, and the horizontal axis represents the level of potential.

With Kippy, you can change and determine the criteria and rating scales to create a customized 9-box grid that fits your needs. You can change the ratings on the fly and get those changes reflected in the grid instantly.

Kippy gives you a tool to manage strategy execution, KPIs, and HR appraisals all in one convenient piece of software.

4. Label the axes

Label the vertical axis with performance levels (e.g., "low," "medium," "high"), and label the horizontal axis with potential levels (e.g., "low," "medium," "high"). Note, the potential minimum and maximum scores do not need to be the minimum and maximum on the 9-box plot. For example, if the minimum performance on the plot is 60, you know all employees below 60 will be at the bottom of the plot i.e. they are underperforming. In that case, there is no need to show how far below 60 they are.

5. Populate the grid

Based on the evaluations of individual employees, plot their positions within the grid. Locate each employee's intersection point within the grid based on performance and potential ratings.

For example, an employee with high performance and potential would be placed in the top-right quadrant.

6. Interpret the results

Analyze the placement of employees within the grid to identify patterns or trends. The different quadrants of the grid typically represent different categories, such as "high potential, high performance," "low potential, high performance," "high potential, low performance," and "low potential, low performance."

These categories help guide talent development strategies, succession planning, or performance improvement plans.

7. Review and update regularly

Regularly review and update the 9-box grid as employee performance and potential evolve. It ensures that the grid remains a dynamic tool for talent management and can support ongoing decision-making processes.

Remember, the system is just one approach to assessing and categorizing employees. It must be considered part of a comprehensive talent management system incorporating other factors.

You must include feedback, goal setting, and individual development plans to support employee growth and success.

How do you use a 9-box grid for talent management?

It is without a doubt that a 9-box grid is a valuable tool for talent management and succession planning within organizations.

The grid visually represents your employees' performance and potential, allowing for effective decision-making regarding their development and career progression.

Here's a detailed explanation of how to use a 9-box grid:

Assess performance and potential

To utilize the 9-box grid effectively, evaluating employees based on their performance and potential is necessary.

Performance assessments typically consider factors like skills, achievements, and current job performance, while potential evaluations focus on an individual's capacity for growth, learning agility, and leadership qualities.

These evaluations are conducted through various methods, including performance reviews, self-assessments, and feedback from supervisors and colleagues.

Analyze the grid

Interpret the results by analyzing the distribution of employees across the 9-box grid. Look for patterns or clusters of employees in specific quadrants.

For instance, those in the top-right quadrant (high performance, high potential) are high-potential talent. You can earmark them for succession planning and leadership development programs.

Those in the bottom-left quadrant (low performance, low potential) might need additional support training from the organization. The other quadrants represent employees with varying degrees of performance and potential. Each of these requires a tailored approach to their development and career progression.

Identify development strategies

Once the employees are placed within the grid, it becomes easier to identify appropriate development strategies for each quadrant.

For high-potential employees, focus on grooming them for leadership positions through targeted training, mentorship, and exposure to challenging assignments.

Employees in the low-performance categories may benefit from performance improvement plans, additional training, or reassignment to better utilize their skills.

Benefits of using the 9-box grid

The 9-box grid is a widely used tool in talent management that offers several benefits to organizations.

The system provides valuable insights for strategic decision-making and talent development by visually categorizing employees based on their performance and potential.

Here are some key benefits of using the grid:

Identifying high-potential talent

One of the primary advantages of the 9-box grid is its ability to pinpoint employees with high potential. By considering both performance and potential, you identify potential successors as individuals who demonstrate exceptional capabilities and the capacity for growth.

These high-potential employees can be groomed as future leaders in succession planning and critical organizational roles.

Succession planning

The 9-box grid enables organizations to identify and develop a pipeline of future leaders. By recognizing employees with high potential and placing them in the appropriate quadrant, organizations can focus their resources on grooming these individuals for leadership positions.

It facilitates effective succession planning and reduces the risk of talent gaps when key positions become vacant.

Tailored development plans

The grid provides a framework for designing customized development plans for employees in different categories.

High-potential individuals can be offered targeted training, mentoring, and stretch assignments to accelerate their growth and prepare them for future leadership roles.

Employees with high performance but lower potential may benefit from lateral moves or specialized training to enhance their skills and broaden their experience.

Performance improvement strategies

The 9-box grid also helps identify employees with low performance or low potential. Organizations can design performance improvement plans for individuals in the low-performance categories to address skill gaps, provide additional training, or offer coaching and feedback.

By clearly understanding employee capabilities and potential, you can proactively support struggling employees and improve their performance.

Resource allocation

The 9-box grid assists in allocating resources effectively. By categorizing employees based on their performance and potential, organizations can allocate resources such as training budgets, mentoring programs, and career development opportunities to individuals who would benefit the most.

It ensures that resources are utilized strategically and that employees receive the support they need for growth and success.

Talent calibration and objectivity

The 9-box grid is a platform for talent calibration discussions among leaders and managers. It encourages objective evaluations and mitigates biases by providing a standardized framework for assessing employees.

It allows for more consistent and fair assessment across the organization, promoting transparency and reducing subjectivity in talent management decisions.

Data-driven decision-making

The grid visually represents talent within the organization, making analyzing and interpreting workforce data easier.

It identifies trends, gaps, and opportunities for talent development. Organizations can make informed decisions about promotions, transfers, development initiatives, and resource allocation by using the grid as a data-driven tool.

Strategic Workforce and succession planning

The insights gained from the 9-box grid can inform long-term workforce planning strategies. Organizations can identify areas where they may have talent shortages or excesses by understanding the distribution of talent across the grid.

This information can guide recruitment efforts, internal mobility programs, and workforce restructuring initiatives to ensure the right talent is in the right place at the right time.

Employee engagement and retention

The 9-box grid positively impacts employee engagement and retention. When employees see that their current performance expectations and potential are considered and that development opportunities are aligned with their strengths and aspirations, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated.

This can increase job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty to the organization.

Limitations of the 9-box grid

While the system is a valuable performance management tool, you must be aware of its limitations as an HR executive. You should understand these limitations to use the 9-box grid effectively and avoid potential pitfalls.

Here are some fundamental limitations to consider:

Subjectivity in ratings

The accuracy of the 9-box grid heavily relies on the accuracy and consistency of the performance expectations and potential ratings assigned to employees.

However, ratings are subjective and are often influenced by personal biases, differing interpretations, and inconsistent evaluation criteria among raters.

The subjectivity undermines the reliability and validity of the grid, leading to incorrect placements of employees and potentially unfair talent management decisions.

Oversimplification of employee potential

The 9-box grid reduces employee potential to a single dimension. It assumes that future potential can be neatly categorized into three levels (e.g., low, medium, and high performers) without accounting for the complexity and multidimensionality of human potential.

The oversimplification may overlook certain aspects of an employee's potential or fail to capture the nuances of their capabilities, limiting the accuracy and effectiveness of talent assessments.

Lack of context

The 9-box grid does not consider contextual factors that can significantly impact assessing employee performance and potential.

The grid should explicitly account for factors such as organizational culture, team dynamics, available resources, and external market conditions. Failing to consider these contextual factors can result in inaccurate evaluations and misguided performance management decisions.

Insufficient consideration of individual aspirations

The system primarily focuses on ways to assess employee performance and potential as determined by the organization's criteria. However, it may not adequately account for an individual's career aspirations, goals, and interests.

By not paying attention to these factors, organizations risk overlooking employees who may have lower performance ratings but possess untapped potential in areas aligned with their passions and career aspirations.

Lack of developmental guidance

While the evaluation system using the 9-box grid helps categorize employees, it does not provide detailed guidance on developing or improving their performance and potential.

The grid alone does not offer insights into specific skill gaps, development needs, or appropriate development strategies for individuals.

To ensure adequate growth and progress, you must supplement the grid with comprehensive talent development programs, individualized feedback, and coaching.

Limited predictive ability

The system focuses on assessing current performance and potential but does not guarantee future success or accurately predict an employee's trajectory.

It is important to remember that performance and potential can change over time due to various factors, such as job responsibilities, personal circumstances, or shifts in organizational priorities.

Relying solely on past performance and potential ratings may lead to missed opportunities or inaccurate predictions about an employee's future contributions.

Lack of inclusivity

The 9-box grid may be susceptible to biases and limitations hindering diversity and inclusion efforts. If not carefully implemented, the grid can perpetuate discrimination and favor certain demographic groups or leadership styles.

It is crucial to ensure that the grid is used with other diversity-focused evaluation approaches to prevent discriminatory outcomes and promote a fair and inclusive talent management process.

Potential for misuse

The 9-box grid can only be used if applied cautiously and its purpose and limitations are understood. You should avoid using the system as the sole determinant for talent decisions, such as promotions or layoffs.

It may need to be more balanced with the complexity of talent and capture the full range of employee contributions and potential.

How to mitigate the drawbacks of a 9-box grid system?

The grid is an exceptionally good tool for assessing employee performance objectively. However, improper implementation or inattention to detail can make the system pretty much useless.

If you want to prevent your grid from falling prey to these lacunas, you should:

  • Improve your rating system by minimizing subjectivity and bias and clarifying leaders' expectations. Training your evaluators can go a long way to ensure this.

  • Experts strongly suggest that relying on the 9-box grid system alone for assessing performance can result in erroneous talent pool analysis. Use the grid system in conjugation with other methods of performance analysis.

  • Remember that the employees are at the core of your team or organization. The results you get from any evaluation system must be used to train them. Maintain an open and honest communication to drive the conversation forward.

  • Ensure that the grid stays up-to-date and evaluate employee performance periodically.

Kippy helps by providing the tools to wrap the performance and competency appraisals in collaborative discussions through out the year, not just on assessing where someone is, but also helping them get to where they want to be. All discussions, KPI submissions, self-appraisals, and manager appraisals are automatically audited in the system to inform the end of year appraisal.

If you follow these tips, using the 9-box grid as a powerful tool to drive profitability and employee satisfaction in your organization is possible.

Maximizing performance management and potential: navigating the benefits and limitations of the 9-box grid

The 9-box grid is a valuable tool that significantly impacts organizational talent management and performance evaluation processes.

It visually represents your employee performance management and potential. It lets you make strategic decisions, chalk out talent development programs, and plan ahead. However, you should pay attention to understanding the benefits and limitations of the system to ensure its effective use.

The benefits of the 9-box grid are evident. It aids in identifying high performers, facilitating succession planning, and allocating resources effectively.

You can nurture your talent pool and enhance employee engagement and retention by categorizing employees and offering tailored development plans. The grid fosters objectivity and data-driven decision-making. It leads to a fairer and more transparent talent management process.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the 9-box grid. Subjectivity in ratings, oversimplification of potential, and the lack of context can impact the accuracy and reliability of the grid.

Additionally, the grid may only partially consider individual aspirations and the complexity of human potential. To address these limitations, you must complement the 9-box grid with comprehensive development programs, individualized feedback, and coaching.

Kippy is an online platform that allows you to manage your organization's strategy, objectives, and KPIs and use the pooled data for performance management. You can create custom 9-box grids using our micro apps that make visualization and analysis of the performance of your employees easy and effective.

Visit our site today to check out an interactive demo of all our services, or contact us with any questions or concerns.



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