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Succession Planning: What is a 9-box grid?

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. The intersection of the two determines the employee’s current standing and where development may be needed.

The 9-box grid is most commonly used in succession planning as a method of evaluating an organization’s current talent and identifying potential leaders. When leadership performance and potential are assessed and plotted on the graph, individuals in the upper right quadrant (Box 1) are identified as high-potential candidates for succession, while those in the lower left quadrant (Box 9) may need to be reassigned or removed from the organization.

The boxes on the grid indicate where investment needs to be made to develop future leaders. Those people in box 1 should be ready for top leadership within 6 months to a year; those in Boxes 2, 3, or 6 have a longer timeline but can be groomed for eventual movement to Box 1.

A sample 9-box grid might look something like this:

​Under Performance​Effective Performance​Outstanding Performance
High PotentialBox 5: Seasoned professional capable of expanded role, but may be experiencing problems that require coaching and mentoring.Box 2: Does extremely well at the current job with potential to do more; gives stretch assignments to help prepare for next level.Box 9: May be a candidate for reassignment, reclassification to a lower level, or exit the organization.
Medium PotentialBox 3:
The current role may still provide opportunities for growth/development; focused on tactical; the focus should be on helping improve strategic thinking.
Box 6: May be considered for job enlargement at the same level, but may need coaching in several areas, including people management.Box 1: Consistently performs well in a variety of assignments; superstar employee. Big picture thinker; problem solver; self-motivated.
​Low PotentialBox 8: With coaching, could progress within a level; focus on stretch goals for this employee.Box 9: May be a candidate for reassignment, reclassification to a lower level or exit the organization.Box 7: Effective performer, but may have reached career potential; try to coach employees on becoming more innovative, focus on lateral thinking.

The remaining boxes can be used to identify when coaching or a change in job or responsibilities may be needed. It may not be valuable to the organization to spend time and effort attempting to salvage an individual with low potential and poor performance; however, an individual with low potential but effective performance may need to be engaged or motivated in his or her current job.

When used correctly, the 9-box grid can be both a versatile and a valuable tool for an organization, but HR professionals are advised to become thoroughly familiar with it before attempting to use it. Like any tool, it can be damaging to the organization if used incorrectly.

Source: Society for Human Resources Management

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