9-box-grid-model

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:

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

Advantages and disadvantages of the 9-box grid model

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

Advantages

  • 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.
  • Simplicity – 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

  • Competition – 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.

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.

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).
  • 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.

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