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The 9 box is experiencing a recent resurgence. What is a 9-box grid? What are the pros and cons of using a 9-box grid for talent management?

Talent management is crucial for the sustained success of any organization. One tool that helps company leaders to identify their top performers is the 9-box grid, which is experiencing a resurgence in recent years. What is a 9-box grid? What are the pros and cons of using a 9-box grid for talent management?

What is the 9-Box Grid in Talent Management?

The 9-box grid, or 9-box performance grid, is a visual tool to categorize assessments of employee performance and potential. SHRM describes it this way, “The 9-box grid is an individual assessment tool that evaluates an employee’s current and potential level of contribution to the organization. The vertical columns of the grid indicate growth potential, and the horizontal rows identify whether the employee is currently below, meeting, or exceeding performance expectations.”

Here is an example of a 9-box with employee categories based on ratings of their performance and perceived potential to grow and contribute more:


Low Performance Effective Performance High Performance
High Potential Under-performer with untapped talent High potential, reliable contributor High performer with greatest potential
Moderate Potential Inconsistent contributor Reliable contributor with some potential Strong contributor
Low Potential Under-performer who needs immediate intervention Effective performer with little potential to change High performer with little chance of significant change


How the 9-Box Grid is Used for Talent Management

HR leaders and managers commonly use a 9 box as a structured framework to support performance management initiatives and help inform their decisions around:

  • Individual employee performance compared with others on their team
  • When to invest in employee learning and development opportunities
  • Job promotions
  • Succession planning
  • Recruitment needs

Individuals in the top right box are deemed ready to take on leadership roles within the next six to 12 months. Those in the lower left need immediate intervention such as reassignment, probation plans, or departure from the organization.

Three Pros of Using a 9 Box for Talent Management

It’s no accident that the 9 box is experiencing a resurgence. There are numerous advantages to using the tool, including these.

PRO #1 | Provides Concise Visual Framework
With a clear and simple layout, the 9-box enables quick assessments of employee performance and potential. Such streamlined visualization helps managers and HR professionals to instantly recognize high performers, high potentials, and those needing additional support. This clarity facilitates swift decision-making and strategic planning, ensuring that no talent is overlooked.

PRO #2 | Enhances Strategic Talent Development
By offering a structured approach to evaluating the intersection of performance and potential, the 9-box grid helps to identify future leaders and key contributors. It aids in pinpointing individuals who would benefit most from targeted learning and development programs, thus optimizing the use of training and development resources. This proactive approach helps ensure a strong pipeline of talent ready to step into critical roles as part of a succession planning program, supporting long-term organizational growth and stability.

PRO #3 | Encourages Constructive Dialogue
The 9 box fosters transparent and constructive discussions between managers and employees. It provides a foundation for setting performance expectations, offering feedback, and discussing future career paths, and development opportunities. For employees aiming for that top right box, such conversations can be motivating and provide a clear roadmap for development and promotion. For managers, it offers a structured way to address performance issues, support employee growth, and enhance overall employee engagement.

Three 9 Box “Cons”

Of course, there are drawbacks, too, to relying on the 9 box.

CON #1 | Oversimplifies Performance and Potential
By design, a 9 box is simplistic – and runs the risk of being too narrow or too rigid. It’s a point-in-time assessment of one’s current performance and potential future performance. It does not consider job skills or other important skills such as teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving. Nor does it consider external factors that often play into development and career decisions.

CON #2 | Open to Bias
Assessing someone’s potential is a subjective exercise, making the process at risk of significant bias. Without objective measures, such as skills assessments or employee productivity metrics, biases such as the halo effect or negative subconscious biases may skew results.

CON #3 | Can Become a Punitive Tool
Managers who simply “read out” 9 box results to their team members risk perpetuating poor performance for their under-performing employees. Those identified as having lower potential or performance can feel demoralized about how they stack up in the company and become less engaged and more likely to leave their jobs.

Final Thoughts

As with any talent management tool, the 9 box can be a useful addition to a company’s and manager’s toolkit. When used as part of a skills and competency-focused approach to talent management, where routine employee skills assessments provide rich skills data, the 9-box grid provides a high-level snapshot that complements the detail of individual, team, and company skill sets.

Before deciding whether and how to use a 9 box at your organization, be sure you fully understand the pros and cons – and how they may fit with your goals and culture. When coupled with more objective measures of employees’ skills and contributions – and ongoing conversations about performance and career goals – a 9 box can support strategic talent management for many organizations.

If you are using a 9 box to support your talent management initiatives, download our Competency Management Toolkit to help round out the tool with some objective measurements of employees’ skills and competencies. Or contact us to see if Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your employee development and initiative. 


Unlocking Success: 8 Benefits of Assessing Employee Skills
4 Essential Steps to Successful Succession Planning
Using Competency Management to Offer Flexible Career Paths
8 Elements of a Successful Performance Management Plan 

Skills-based Talent Management: What is it? Why is it Important?