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Using a 9 Box to Optimize Performance [+free template]

6 min read

Covid and the rise of remote and hybrid work have changed the way companies measure employee performance. According to theWorld Economic Forum, this means they must measure employee performance based on outcomes with clear performance metrics rather than the traditional focus on employee behavior. As a result, tools like the 9 box grid are being used more often for talent mapping and measuring performance. 

McKinsey developed the 9 Box model in the 1970s to help General Electric prioritize investments across its 150 business units. It has evolved since then into an HR management tool used to measure two factors: performance and potential.

But what is it exactly?

In this guide, we will explain what the 9 box is and how it can be used as part of yourperformance managementprocess. We will also discuss the pros and cons of conducting a 9 box assessment to help you decide if it is the right tool for you.9-box

What is a 9 Box Grid?

The 9-box assessment model, also known as the 9-box grid, is a talent management tool used to analyze and compare employee work performance and potential. It helps managers identify future leaders and those with potential. The 9-box can also be used to reevaluate talent placement, improve succession planning, and identify performance issues and talent gaps. It facilitates employee growth and contributes to retention, engagement, and productivity. 

But how does it do this?

With the 9 box grid, you map your employees against two axes: current performance and future potential. Where they fall on the grid will depend on their combined scores. The higher the score, the more potential for growth. This information can then be used to strategically develop employees for future positions within the company.  

With these results you can determine:

  • Which of your employees are ready to lead. You can then prepare them for promotion.
  • If you have any employees who are not yet ready for a management role but could be in the future with the right career development.
  • Which employees are falling short of expectations in their current role. You can then create aperformance improvement planand set clear objectives to help them get back on track.

How to Use 9 Box Grid 

The 9 box grid is asimple three-by-three framework that you can use as part of the performance evaluation process. You can use this framework to plot employees’ future potential on the y-axis (high potential, moderate potential, low potential) and their current performance on the x-axis (low performer, moderate performer, high performer) according to their combined performance scores. Where they fall on the grid determines their future within your organization.

Evaluate Employee Performance

Before you use the grid, you need to assess employee performance. To do this, you can use tools for measuring performance including:

Depending on the results obtained from the assessment tools, determine whether employees are high, moderate, or high performers.  This three-point scale will appear as the x-axis of your nine-box.

Evaluate Employee Potential

The other axis on the nine-box is employee potential.  Using performance appraisals, a 360 review template , or other assessment tools previously mentioned, you can get an idea of the potential that employees have to grow in the company. This means taking into account motivation levels and desire to learn. Like performance, you will need to note whether employees have a high, moderate, or low amount of potential.

Position on the Grid

After scoring employee performance and potential, it is time to put it all together in the nine-box grid.  You can draw out the nine-box by hand or, to make things easy, use an excel template.  As the name indicates, employees should fall into one of nine categories.  It should look something like this:9-box-grid

The template 9 box grid consists of the following categories:

  • Enigma- Low performer with high potential
  • High potential- Moderate performer with high potential
  • Excellent- High performer with high potential
  • Questionable- Low performer with moderate potential
  • Reliable- Moderate performer with moderate potential
  • High performer- High performer with moderate potential
  • Unacceptable- Low performer with low potential
  • Acceptable- Moderate performer with low potential
  • Dedicated- High performer with low potential

Once you determine an employee’s position on the 9-box, you have a frame of reference for deciding how their future at your company will look, and where you need to invest your efforts. 

In general, this includes:

  • Recognizing high-performing employees.
  • Supporting mid-range performers to help them improve their performance and move higher up the grid (the top right of the grid is the optimum spot).
  • Identifying employees who consistently underperform and developing a performance improvement plan. 

Why not give our handy downloadable “9-box grid template” a go to see what you think?

Why Use a 9 Box Assessment: The Benefits

Although there are a number ofbenefitsto holding regular performance appraisals, using this assessment method can provide a deeper level of insight into the level of employee performance in your company.

Here are some of the pros:

  • Many companies are nowdistancing themselvesfrom traditional annual performance reviews as they are costly and do not offer a true representation of an employee’s performance. The 9 box gives you a much more rounded and up-to-date perspective. This is because you can use it to evaluate both current performance and potential, so it gives you a much clearer picture of each employee’s performance. It also helps you deliver more relevant recognition and more appropriate support, which improvesemployee morale
  • The 9 box is quick to set up and easy to use. You just have to review an employee’s strengths and weaknesses to match them with the right box. The visual nature of it also makes it much easier for you to see where you have gaps in your talent pool.
  • It encourages dialogue, collaboration, and communication between managers. 
  • The framework makes it much easier for you to plan for business continuity and employee growth. 
  • As an assessment tool, it can give you a fresh perspective on the level of performance in your company. 
  • It’s a valuable tool for your career development plans that can help take your business to the next level.
  • Another benefit is that is makes workforce planning easier. Plus, the 9 box highlights development opportunities or training needs, facilitates employee growth and contributes to retention, engagement, and productivity. 
  • Finally, it increases transparency. The 9 box grid requires open and honest communication between managers. These conversations can often help clarify company goals and expectations.

Limitations of the 9 Box Model 

Every great management tool has its limitations, and the 9 box grid is no exception.

For example, here are some limitations to consider:

  • It is a great tool for getting a broad overview of an employee. However, it doesn’t go into any details about an employee’s performance or potential. You also need to rely on additional assessment tools to get a complete perspective of an employee’s performance. This includes regular personal appraisals, 360 feedback, and performance development plans, amongst other tools.
  • There are some concerns about how accurate and clear metrics are. This is because it is very difficult for your managers to objectively measure ‘potential’ as it is so clearly linked with ‘performance’. There is also a subjective element here, as one manager’s concept of high potential may differ greatly from the opinions of another. If you decide to use the 9 box assessment model, you need to make sure all managers are clear on how potential is defined and measured. 
  • The 9 box can also be susceptible to bias. This is because there is a danger that once a label of “high performer” or “low performer” has been assigned to an employee, it can be difficult to unstick. Without clear guidelines, these labels can affect the degree of support and recognition an employee receives. 

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Tools for Talent Management

The 9 box model is a great tool for getting an overview of an employee’s performance, but to get a better picture of employee performance you need a comprehensiveperformance management system

But why is this so important?

A good employee performance management system helps you track and evaluate employee performance against established KPIs and provides employees with relevant training and professional guidance.Performance management toolsusually include features for tracking and monitoring progress reviews, reporting, goal setting, real-time feedback, and rewards for improved performance.

Factorial’sperformance management softwareis a great solution for managing every aspect of employee performance at your company. 

You can use it to: 

  • Gain insight into your workforce with 360-degree reviews
  • Use schedule regular performance review cycles in order to make strategic decisions based on qualitative and quantitative data
  • Generate data to help you identify training gaps and areas for improvement
  • Track the progress of each employee performance review 
  • Automate your performance reviews processes
  • Access feedback directly on Factorial’s platform

Sign upnow and start improving your performance management with Factorial!

This post is also available in: Français , Brasil , English UK

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website ( or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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