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:

  1. Performance in their current role on the x-axis (rated as low, medium, or high).
  2. 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 plays a vital role in the long-term success of a company.

Indeed, 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.

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 employee embodying a particular set of traits that guide future actions:

  1. Future leader (high potential/high performance) – or individuals who have mastered their current role and need to be challenged with something more difficult.
  2. Growth employee (high potential/moderate performance) – a valuable team member with room for improvement who must be gradually challenged to do better.
  3. 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.
  4. Enigma (high potential/low performance) – employees who must be coached to develop confidence and increase motivation.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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).
  8. Effective (low potential/moderate performance) – a consistent contributor with limited potential.
  9. 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. Indeed, the attributes used to measure performance and potential are not that important. Maintaining attribute consistency for every employee evaluation is much more critical.

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.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"