What is The 9-box Grid Model? 9-box Grid Model In A Nutshell

The 9-box grid model is a tool that facilitates discussion about employee development and succession planning. The 9-box grid model helps an organization find these employees. Using a matrix consisting of nine cells, each employee is measured against two factors: Performance in their current role on the x-axis (rated as low, medium, or high). Their potential to develop personally or professionally in line with company values on the y-axis (also rated as low, medium, or high).

Understanding the 9-box grid model

Employee development and succession planning involve the identification and training of future leaders.

The process is often overlooked because of more pressing priorities, but it nevertheless plays a vital role in the long-term success of a company.

Well-executed succession planning enables a business to make powerful decisions that provide a means of identifying and grooming high potential employees for certain roles.

This planning can also help pinpoint knowledge gaps where external recruitment may be required.

The 9-box grid model helps an organization find these employees. Using a matrix consisting of nine cells, each employee is measured against two factors:

Performance in their current role on the x-axis

Rated as low, medium, or high.

Note that the specific performance criteria and the way they are evaluated will vary from one company to the next. 

Employee potential to develop personally or professionally in line with company values on the y-axis

Also rated as low, medium, or high.

This can be a difficult subject to grasp for some businesses.

Therefore, it is helpful to think of potential as the degree to which an employee is expected to grow, learn, and apply knowledge in a variety of job contexts.

Put differently, potential describes future behavior while performance describes past behavior.

Evaluating performance and potential with the 9-box grid model

Using the matrix, the performance of the employee is rated against their potential giving nine potential combinations. 

Each combination describes a class of employees embodying a particular set of traits that guide future actions:

Future leader (high potential/high performance)

Or individuals who have mastered their current role and need to be challenged with something more difficult.

Growth employee (high potential/moderate performance)

A valuable team member with room for improvement who must be gradually challenged to do better.

High impact performer (moderate potential/high performance)

Or an individual who has exceeded expectations. They should be targeted for promotion once certain skills have been developed.

Enigma (high potential/low performance)

Employees who must be coached to develop confidence and increase motivation.

Core employee (moderate potential/moderate performance)

Or an employee who is consistently meeting expectations. There may be potential to increase responsibilities through a development plan.

Trusted professional (low potential/high performance)

Unlikely to progress to a higher role but a strong performer, nonetheless. These individuals may require stimulation to remain engaged. 

Dilemma (moderate potential/low performance)

Employees in this class show some potential but are hampered by low performance.

Here, the focus should be developing skills or a performance improvement plan (PIP).

Effective (low potential/moderate performance)

A consistent contributor with limited potential.

Underperformer (low potential/low performance)

Or an individual who simply does not meet expectations.

They may need to be upskilled or moved to a different role. In some cases, termination may be the best course of action.

Quantifying potential and performance

While a future leader or underperformer may be easily identified, the team may have difficulty placing employees in the middle classes.

To quantify performance, criteria should be set for each class that outlines certain non-negotiable standards. These standards must be universally accepted within the organization.

Defining potential is more difficult because it is a future prediction of success. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, a single definition of the potential for an employee to progress to a leadership role is helpful.

Potential can also be quantified using set criteria that encompass desirable employee attributes or other metrics the business deems important.

The 9-box grid model is a very flexible approach.

While attributes used to measure performance and potential are not that important, maintaining attribute consistency for every employee evaluation is much more critical.

Advantages of the 9-box grid model

In the final section, we will outline some general advantages and disadvantages of the 9-box grid model.

Increased transparency

As hinted at earlier, the 9-box grid model facilitates open and honest communication between leaders and subordinates.

Aside from creating a culture of trust and empowerment, the subordinate can easily understand what is required of them in terms of leader expectations and organizational goals.

Easier workforce planning

The 9-box model is a simple yet detailed way to categorize the various types of employees for use in human capital deployment.

Each box in the grid offers a recommended course of action which makes the deployment process more efficient and allows the organization to maximize its strengths and minimize its weaknesses, so to speak.

In budget planning, for example, low-performing employees with high potential could be allocated more resources than low-performing employees with low or medium potential.


The 9-box grid model is easy to use, has a simple structure, and be completed based on personal observation.

What’s more, it can be used in almost any industry or organization and requires little in the way of data collection or background research.

These qualities make the model very attractive to managers who want a quick and easy way to classify employee performance.

However, as we will see below, a preference for quick wins, can cause problems in the future.

Disadvantages of the 9-box grid model


In workplaces where talent management practices are less transparent, the 9-box grid model results in a system where employees are ranked and compete against each other to avoid termination.

Transparency is key in avoiding this situation. Indeed, it should be explained to employees that the model is designed to cultivate talent and does not require one person to lose for another to succeed.

Review frequency

The 9-box grid model is a more traditional form of performance management characterized by annual reviews by a subordinate’s manager.

However, most businesses now favor an approach that emphasizes continuous feedback.

To make the 9-box model more relevant today, it is recommended that it be used in conjunction with SMART goals, objectives and key results (OKRs), and as many data points as possible.

Categorization problems

The categorization of employees into either low, medium, or high boxes can be problematic since the boundaries between each are in most cases arbitrary.

This can be alleviated to some extent by clearly and concisely outlining the competencies and behaviors associated with each category.

However, there can still be issues when assessing employees across multiple positions or departments where competencies and behaviors tend to vary.

Key takeaways

  • The 9-box grid model is an evaluation tool used in employee development and succession planning.
  • The 9-box grid model is represented by a nine-cell matrix. Each cell, which guides future action for management, represents a class of employees based on varying degrees of performance and potential.
  • The 9-box grid model is a flexible approach to employee evaluation. The chosen attribute set is less important than consistently evaluating each employee using the same criteria.

Why the 9 box grid is outdated?

The 9-box grid model is a decent strategic tool for employee development. As with any strategic tool, it should be used to stimulate team building and motivate the team to grow within the organization. Thus, knowing how to balance the 9-box grid model with other HR tools is critical. Other tools, like OKR, might be more in line with the current market landscape.

Can you create a 9 box grid in Excel?

Using a matrix consisting of nine cells, each employee is measured against two factors:

  • Performance in their current role on the x-axis (rated as low, medium, or high). 
  • Employee potential to develop personally or professionally in line with company values on the y-axis (also rated as low, medium, or high).

Are there any disadvantages to using a nine box grid for succession planning?

  • Competition: to make the 9-box grid model successful, the methodology used to rank employees should be open and shared. Otherwise, this might result in negative peer pressure and lousy competition, which might cause the team’s dismantling.
  • Review frequency: to make it more effective, the model must be used in conjunction with other HR performance tools like SMART Goals or, better yet, OKR. Otherwise, the risk is transforming the tool as wholly ineffective and only used for internal politics.
  • Categorization problems: if not openly shared, this tool can become a double-sword as employees might be wrongly classified, thus completely wrecking off employees’ morale.

Related Goal-Setting Concepts


Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

Balanced Scorecard

First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

Lightning Decision Jam

The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.


A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.


Businesses use backcasting to plan for a desired future by determining the steps required to achieve that future. Backcasting is the opposite of forecasting, where a business sets future goals and works toward them by maintaining the status quo.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework gives context to decision making and problem-solving by providing context and guiding an appropriate response. The five domains of the Cynefin Framework comprise obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic domains and disorder if a domain has not been determined at all.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Blindspot Analysis

A Blindspot Analysis is a means of unearthing incorrect or outdated assumptions that can harm decision making in an organization. The term “blindspot analysis” was first coined by American economist Michael Porter. Porter argued that in business, outdated ideas or strategies had the potential to stifle modern ideas and prevent them from succeeding. Furthermore, decisions a business thought were made with care caused projects to fail because major factors had not been duly considered.

Comparable Company Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Pestel Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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