The 9-Box Grid: A Practitioner’s Guide

These days we have heard a lot about the 9-box grid. What is it? It is a talent management tool that divides employees into nine groups. This kind of grouping is done based on the productivity and performance of the employees.

The managers have to assess the employees’ performance. They must determine how they are performing today and their performance level in the future.

In every team, there should be a balance. Thus, there should be high-performing employees with high growth potential and high-performing employees with low growth potential. There might be a few with low performance and growth potential.

The approach towards them is going to be different. The nine-box grid is a framework that helps manage employees in an organization.

Get An Idea About The Benefits Of Using A 9-Box Grid

Assessing the employee in an easy way

The employee should be reviewed and assessed, and an easy tool like a 9-grid box can simplify the task. The primary foundation for this assessment would be performance and potential.

Identifying the talent

Identifying the talent within the organization is crucial, so there will be a perfect idea about whom to promote and how to consider appraisal methods. With this tool, the identification of talents becomes functional.

Understanding the employee’s potential as a whole

With a 9-grid box, there will be a deep understanding of the employee’s current performance and future potential. Thus, the employer or the company will look into the macro side of the employee’s potential more than just concentrating on his few skills.

A tool helpful for succession planning

This tool is for more than just management to understand the employees’ potential. It is also vital for workforce management and further employment and recruitment planning.

A valuable tool for talent management and talent investments

This tool has wide application in the field of talent management. When the company has to make talent-related investments, it would be better to understand where the employee is placed and how much investment the person needs to get trained or coached. The tool will be crucial to know whether the employee should be promoted, retained, or removed from the organization.

Things To Keep In Mind While Creating The 9-Box Grid

While creating a 9-box grid, one must remember to build the base. The box lies on the foundation of three important things. These are assessment of performance, assessment of potential, and then creating sync between these two things.

Assessing performance

The performance will be assessed based on how the employee has performed. It can be further categorized as low performance, medium performance, and high performance. It relates to whether the person has achieved the targets or not.

Assessing potential

The managers must assess the employees’ potential, which will help to decide what growth prospects are there for them. When there is low potential, the managers must guide the employees to work at their best potential.

When the employee is working at moderate potential, he can raise the bar and develop within his level when given good opportunities.

When there are employees that have high potential, they should be promoted so that they stay motivated for further challenges.

Bringing this metric together

To bring these two metrics together, there will be 3×3 performance and potential criteria. So, the 9-grid box has to be created based on where the employee should be positioned.

Explaining Nine Positions Of The 9-Box Grid

The categories as divided for the 9-box grid include:

  • Dysfunctional geniuses
  • High potentials
  • Stars
  • Up or out dilemmas
  • Core players
  • High performers
  • Bad hires
  • Up or out grinders
  • Workhorses

These divisions have been made and placed in each box based on their current performance and future potential.

Now that you know how to make the 9-box grid, every position must have its relevance, action plan and results. Read on and understand the nine parts of the grid.

The bad hires

The bottom side left-most position is the one that has employees with low performance and low potential.

They are termed bad hires. Some organizations even term them useless employees or under-performers. They should not stay in the organization for too long. If they wait for a long time, then in one way, they are taking away the opportunity from those who could work with better potential.

The manager must sit with the individual and have one-on-one sessions. If there are some performance blocks that the person has, then there should be an effective action plan to remove such obstructions. If things don’t turn out to be productive, then there should be an exit plan. The management must spend only a little of resources on such employees.

Up or out grinders

Some employees fall in the category of up or out grinders, medium performers with low potential. They work for the sake of it and provide a decent performance. But there is little scope for them to grow. Thus, the management must understand that spending less on their training will prove to be resourceful.

Up or out dilemmas

The employees in this category are mainly low-performing but with medium potential. The management identifies their potential, so why are these employees not performing? They are inconsistent, but if coaching is given, they can do better.


These are employees with excellent performance but low growth potential. They are doing very well in the role that is given to them. But when they are promoted, they might not perform as well.

But they are happy with the rewards and incentives they get at their current position. It is essential to keep them happy, but if they are given extra responsibility, that should be given under close supervision.

Dysfunctional geniuses

These employees are considered rough diamonds of the organization. They would have great potential but must perform up to the mark now.

You must talk to them about what is expected from them. They have the will to learn and the zest to perform the task. But there might be some blocks that are stopping them. Suppose the person has geniuses and can do better in a different role. In that case, the company should provide the opportunity for the same.

High potentials

Employees with moderate performance but high potential are essential for the organization. If given the right coaching, opportunity, and way, these employees can become stars in what they do. They should be given a push and a boost to help them soon achieve the top position.

Core players

The core players take the centre position of the grid. They are consistent in their performance and good enough to have better potential. These employees should be given fair appraisals with time. The management must keep them happy and give them challenging roles and better responsibilities to show their true potential.

High performers

These are rising stars of the organization, and they perform very well. They might have moderate potential within them. But what’s important is how they should use their skills and talent. With the right coaching and assistance, this may become possible.


These employees take the top right position on the grid. They are the stars of the enterprise. They should be assessed at times to ensure they are happy and stay motivated. They should be given challenging assignments and exciting roles. There should be steps to raise their public profile, and they should get very good remuneration.

The above-detailed explanation shows how you will assess the employee and position them so that you know their worth and how much resources to spend on them.

This grid also helps in taking up succession planning. Management must understand the importance of talent management, which will be possible if the employees are assessed time and again.

The Model Is Facing Some Criticism Too

The critics talk about the limitations of the 9-box grid. Some people believe that while placing the employees in the grid, the management might use their bias too.

This grid might only be helpful in making some decisions about talent investment and management. Some critics argue that there are better methods for talent management than this one as it labels an employee. Sometimes, these kinds of tools might create conflicts within the organization.

Some managers feel that this HR-related model is complex and time-consuming. It might work even when there is mention of a clear set of goals.

When the data available might not complete, this model might not give accurate results.


To make the 9-box grid work, it matters that there should be a proper assessment of performance and potential. It is a powerful and amazing tool that can help in the evaluation of individual objectives as well as team goals.

The 9-box grid tool has an excellent potential to know how the employees should be rated and what action plan should be followed to enhance their limits. Learning about the grid and its positioning on the same can provide the management with insight to take things to the next level.

The analysis and the results that the company gets with this HR tool help make leadership decisions. The company can make strategic decisions based on talent management with the help of the 9-box grid tool.

The tool has wide applications. Even though there are a few drawbacks, this tool seems to be one of the best options for decisions regarding talent growth and investments.

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