The 9-box grid is a formidable tool for succession planning that offers a clear, visual representation of employee performance, compared with potential. 

By positioning staff across a spectrum from underperformers to high-potential leaders, this grid helps HR professionals identify who is ready to advance, who needs development, and who may not be a right fit in the long term. 

Let’s understand what a 9-box grid looks like, and how to use it for succession planning. 

What Is the 9-Box Grid?

The 9-box grid is a widely used assessment framework that helps organizations evaluate their employees' current performance against their potential for future leadership roles. 

Essentially, it aids HR professionals in making strategic decisions about employee development, succession planning, or necessary performance interventions.

Visually, as the name suggests, this tool is structured as a grid divided into nine sections. The horizontal axis represents employee performance, while the vertical axis gauges potential.

Each employee is placed within the grid based on these dimensions, allowing HR teams to categorize staff as underperformers, potential improvers, or high-potential high performers, thus clarifying their roles in future leadership pipelines or immediate development needs.

9-box grid model to help HRs with talent management and succession planning.

What Does Each Section In the 9-Box Grid Mean?

The 9-box grid is a vital tool used in talent management and succession planning to evaluate an organization's workforce. It categorizes employees based on their performance and potential. 

Here's a detailed look at each category within the grid, elaborating on characteristics and suggested action plans for each.

How to identify each section in the 9-Box Grid

1. Low Performance, Low Potential (Underperformers)

These employees consistently fail to meet job requirements and show little to no signs of potential growth.

Action Plan:

  • Implement performance improvement plans with clear, achievable objectives.
  • Provide focused training sessions to address specific skill deficits.
  • Regularly review progress and adjust plans as necessary.
  • Consider reassignment to roles that better align with their abilities, or transition out if no improvement is observed.

2. Low Performance, Moderate Potential (Developing Potential)

They struggle with current roles but have shown signs of potential improvement under different circumstances or with additional support.

Action Plan:

  • Assign mentors to provide guidance and support personal development.
  • Enroll them in training programs that target their specific growth areas.
  • Provide opportunities for small-scale leadership to build confidence and skills.
  • Regular feedback sessions to track progress and adapt development strategies.

3. Low Performance, High Potential (Hidden Gems)

These employees possess significant potential but their skills may be underutilized or misaligned with their current roles.

Action Plan: 

  • Analyze and realign their job roles to better suit their strengths and interests.
  • Offer challenging projects that stimulate engagement and growth.
  • Provide exposure to different departments or teams to broaden their experience.
  • Involve them in strategic meetings to enhance their industry and organizational knowledge.

4. Moderate Performance, Low Potential (Solid Performers)

These employees meet job expectations reliably but lack the desire or capability to advance beyond their current roles.

Action Plan: 

  • Recognize their efforts and contributions to motivate continued good performance.
  • Offer lateral moves that enrich their job experience without adding leadership responsibilities.
  • Engage them in training that enhances their current role efficiency.
  • Provide stable work conditions that maintain their job satisfaction.

5. Moderate Performance, Moderate Potential (Core Contributors)

These individuals are competent in current roles with potential to take on more responsibility.

Action Plan: 

  • Design a career path plan with achievable steps for advancement.
  • Offer varied assignments that challenge them and expand their skill set.
  • Encourage participation in cross-departmental projects to increase visibility and collaboration.
  • Leadership skills workshops to prepare them for future supervisory roles.

6. Moderate Performance, High Potential (Future Leaders)

They demonstrate their potential for leadership but require further development to fully realize their capabilities.

Action Plan: 

  • Fast-track leadership development programs to prepare for higher roles.
  • Provide critical project lead roles to develop and test their leadership skills.
  • Regular one-on-one coaching with senior leaders to provide insights and guidance.
  • Strategic networking opportunities within and outside the organization to build valuable connections.

7. High Performance, Low Potential (Specialists)

These employees excel in their specialties and are critical to the company's operations but are not interested in leadership roles.

Action Plan: 

  • Create opportunities for peer training where they can teach others their specialty.
  • Involve them in the innovation of new techniques and practices in their area of expertise.
  • Offer advanced certifications and courses that allow them to deepen their specialized skills.
  • Recognize them as subject matter experts and consult them in strategic decisions within their domain.

8. High Performance, Moderate Potential (Key Players)

They are strong performers with the ability to progress into higher positions, though not at the top leadership level.

Action Plan:

  • Prepare them for the next level with targeted leadership training.
  • Encourage mentorship roles where they can develop coaching skills.
  • Provide visibility with upper management through presentations and project results.
  • Tailored development plans that align with their career aspirations and organizational needs.

9. High Performance, High Potential (Top Talent)

These individuals are exceptional performers with the ability and ambition to occupy top management roles, demonstrating leadership, creativity, and strategic thinking.

Action Plan:

  • Enroll them in executive development programs to prepare for senior leadership roles.
  • Assign to high-stake projects that have significant impact on the business.
  • Strategic mentorship from C-suite executives to provide insights into organizational leadership.
  • Foster a succession planning pathway that aligns with both their career goals and organizational objectives.

How to Use a 9-Box Grid for Succession Planning?

Using a 9-box grid is a strategic approach for HR professionals and people leaders to manage talent effectively within an organization. This tool helps you visualize your employees’ performance against their potential, allowing for better planning in terms of succession and development. 

Here’s how you can implement and utilize the 9-box grid in your talent management and succession planning strategy.

Step 1: Define Performance and Potential Criteria

Start by defining what performance and potential mean within the context of your organization.

Performance should be measured by how well employees meet their current job responsibilities, while potential is about their capacity to grow and take on more complex roles. 

Get your team or other important stakeholders on board to establish clear metrics and criteria.

Step 2: Evaluate Employees

Gather data on each employee from various sources like performance reviews reports, 360-degree feedback, and personal observations. 

It’s important to have a holistic view of how each individual contributes to the organization and their capabilities for future growth. So, a performance management tool can help you assess an employee's performance and identify areas for improvement, and where they excel. 

Step 3: Plot on the Grid

Place each employee on the grid based on their performance and potential ratings. This visual placement will help you quickly identify which employees are high performers, potential leaders, require further development, or perhaps are not a good fit.

Assessing employee potential involves evaluating an individual's capability to grow and handle greater responsibilities in the future. Unlike performance, which can be measured more directly through job achievements, peer reviews, and feedback, potential is more subjective and predictive.

Which means you’re making informed guesses about an employee’s potential based on past behaviors, achievements, and other personal qualities. This is what ideally happens in potential appraisals.

Read more about: The difference between performance and potential appraisals

Step 4: Develop Action Plans

Develop tailored action plans for your employees based on where they fall on the grid. 

These plans should address the specific needs of each group and aim to foster their professional growth or alignment into new roles.

Step 5: Communicate and Implement Your Plan

Communicate the outcomes of the assessment to each employee and discuss the individual development plans you’ve outlined. 

It’s crucial that employees understand their perceived performance and potential, as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead. 

This transparency can help motivate them and align their career goals with organizational needs.

Step 6: Link to Succession Planning

Use the insights gained from the 9-box grid to inform your succession planning. 

Identify which employees are ready to step into key roles and ensure that there is a development path for potential future leaders, securing the organization’s stability and growth.

To Summarize

The 9-box grid is more than just a tool for evaluating employee performance and potential; it's a strategic framework that can profoundly impact the future of your organization. 

By effectively categorizing employees and identifying key players and future leaders, HR professionals can craft targeted development programs that not only meet the current needs of the company but also foster its long-term growth.