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    Everything You Need to Know about the 9 Box Grid Model

    March 21, 2022

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    9 Box Grid Model

    What is the 9 Box Grid?

    The 9 box grid is an HR management tool that divides employees into nine separate groups. It categorizes them based on their performance and their potential. The 9 box grid model hence provides a structure that can manage employee performance. 

    Why You Should Use the 9 Box Grid?

    There are four main reasons why the 9 box grid model is a popular tool among HR professionals:

    • Easy to Use

      The 9-box grid is not a complicated tool to use. Employees’ performance and potential are matched to a relevant box. Even new users can use this without extensive training.
    • Highlights Talent

      Using the 9-box grid allows HR professionals to select the best talent among the workforce. The tool helps visualize who the top performers are and their potential in the future. HR teams are presented with the data they need to decide how to use the talent, invest in it, nurture it, and help it grow. Succession planning also becomes much easier.
    • Performance Appraisal

      The grid highlights more than one aspect of an employee’s performance. The information given to HR teams is not limited to one aspect of an employee’s performance or future potential. Therefore, they can make better appraisal decisions.
    • Multipurpose

      The 9-box grid is a great performance management tool, but it also works as an HR planning tool. Understanding how well your employee performs in their current role helps HR determine their current performance. Understanding their future potential allows HR to plan for their growth in the organization and a path for their career.

    How to Create the 9 Box Grid

    There are three steps involved in creating a 9-box grid.

    • Assessing Performance

    There are three performance categories in the 9-box grid: low, moderate, and high. Employees are scored on this scale based on their performance. 

    The way these scales are scored differs from company to company. Here is an example of how it could be used. Remember to tweak it to suit your organization.

    • Low performance

      The employee’s performance is below expected levels and does not meet their role’s minimum requirements. They have not been able to meet individual performance goals.
    • Moderate performance

      The employee’s performance has met some requirements and not others. They have managed to meet some of their individual targets, but not all.
    • High performance

      This means that the employee has met all the requirements of their role and has achieved their individual targets.

    This approach allows HR to define the role accordingly and base their judgments on what the position requires. Some organizations may find it more relevant to focus more on personal targets than the role requirements. If that is the case, more weight can be given to achieving individual goals. 

    Now that we have covered one axis of the 9-box grid, the performance part, let’s move on to what the potential entails.

    • Assessing potential

    Employee potential can also be scored during their performance appraisal. Most often, the below categories are used to measure employee potential:

    • Low potential | working at the full potential

      Despite the employee working at full potential, they are not expected to get any better at executing their tasks. This could be because they are already doing their best or simply because they are not motivated enough to do their best.
    • Moderate potential | develop in the current role

      The employee is executing their function to some extent; however, they could build their skills in the current role. This could be based on their performance or their lack of experience.
    • High potential | eligible for promotion

      This means that the employee either meets all expectations or has surpassed expectations and can execute their function very well. Further, the employee is keen to take on more responsibility and is a natural leader. They are willing to work harder and may be ready to be moved to a more demanding role.

    While these terms can be highly demotivating, especially if an employee is told they have low potential, the 9 box grid is generally used for HR and management. When communicating these scores to employees, it is advisable to be tactful and diplomatic. After all, the tool is supposed to improve employee performance.

    Having said that, letting employees know that they have high potential and have the skills required to move up the ladder prematurely has to be done carefully. First, HR has to make sure that such a position is available. Otherwise, employees will feel that they are being underutilized or getting less than they deserve.

    Employees that come in the low potential category are not employees that should be given up on. This tool works as an indicator of their current situation. With the right remedial action, training, and motivation, you may find that they become top performers. It could also be that the low performer has never executed such a role and needs time to learn the job.

    •  Merging the Two

    Once you have all the above-mentioned information, all that remains is putting it together into a 3X3 grid. The result is what is known as the 9 box grid.

    How to Analyze Performance on the 9 Box Grid 

    Now that you know how to create a 9 box grid model, let’s understand it a little better.

    • Bad hires

    Employees who score low in performance and low in potential are at the bottom left of the grid, also known as the bad hires or underperformers.

    While they are labeled bad hires, now is the time to give them remedial coaching and implement action plans to improve their performance and potential. Ideally, they should move up the grid in due time.

    Not taking swift action can cause their lack of motivation and enthusiasm to impact other employees adversely.

    • Up or Out

    The next category in the 9-box grid includes average-performing employees with low future potential, also known as ‘up or out grinders’. Employees with low performance and medium future potential are also in this category, known as the up or out dilemmas.

    HR departments are often in turmoil when it comes to this category, as the low future potential makes it difficult to justify investing in their development. However, they cannot be terminated as their output is above that of the low performers.

    For this category of personnel, it is best to implement low-cost individual improvement plans.

    If the improvement plans fail to yield positive results, it means they have been unable to move up. HR must take them out of the team entirely, hence the name.

    • Workhorses and Dysfunctional Geniuses

    The top-left and bottom-right corners are the boxes in the 9-box grid for employees that are excellent in one parameter. They are either high performers or have high future potential.

    The workhorses are great performers. They may not have great future potential, but you could nurture their potential. However, it usually pays to invest they stay happy in that role.

    On the other hand, dysfunctional geniuses are filled with future potential but do not perform for you now. That can be an issue. You still incur the costs of paying them now, yet don’t see the benefit. For this category, you must find ways of increasing their productivity in the short term. This could be with quick training programs or incentive-based targets. One thing that seems to work for this category is constant and clear communication. Let them know what you need them to do. 

    • Future stars

    This category of the 9-box grid hosts the powerhouses of your workforce. They have good output and have the potential to grow and take up more responsibility.

    The aim is to eventually move all the employees in this box to the top right. You need to create action plans to help them increase their potential, and for those that could do better on performance, provide remedial coaching.

    • Stars

    The top-right column is where the future management resides: your top performers, who also showcase great potential. HR teams should start preparing succession planning routes for employees in this box.

    These employees cannot always be expected to remain in that box without the right environment. They need to be constantly challenged, given additional responsibilities, extra guidance under senior leadership, and show opportunities.

    Ensure that you collect feedback about their satisfaction in their current roles and be on the lookout for early signs of unsatisfied employees. These employees are most likely to get whisked away by your competition if you do not keep them engaged.

    These are the aces in your deck. Make sure you reward them and that they know that you recognize their value.


    The 9-box grid is a great tool to manage employees. It can help HR teams decide what measures to take to improve their performance or what action plans to create to enhance potential. If used regularly, it can greatly aid HR in developing well-structured succession plans.

    Remember, the tool is meant to be an indicator of where employees stand presently, not their full measure. It is up to the HR department to ensure that employees move up the columns of the 9-box grid and achieve their full potential with optimum productivity.

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