What is the 9-Box Matrix?
The 9-box matrix is a talent management tool used to identify and group employees based on their performance and potential. It helps organisations identify employees’ prospects and development needs by highlighting their performance and potential in their current roles.
The vertical columns of the 9-box matrix indicate the employee’s potential (their ability to grow into broader or different roles in the future), while the horizontal rows indicate the employee’s performance in their current role. The intersection of performance and potential in each box in the matrix serves to group employees into their respective talent levels.
The 9-box matrix is especially useful during performance appraisals, as it gives a summary of the employee’s performance in their current role, which helps HR and line managers discuss next steps, which could range from promotion, a personal improvement plan, redeployment, or letting the employee go.
Functions Of The 9-Box Matrix
1. Track Performance (horizontal axis)
The 9-box matrix groups employees’ performance into three categories (low, moderate and high) after employees have been reviewed by their supervisors. This typically happens during performance appraisals, where the employee is measured against previously communicated KPIs or OKRs.
Here’s what each performance category indicates:
- Low performance – Employee does not match the requirements of their job role and fails to meet their targets.
- Moderate performance – Employee partially matches the requirements of their job role and meets some of their targets.
- High performance – Employee fully meets the requirements of their job and successfully meets their targets.
2. Assess Potential (vertical axis)
Employee potential is also scored during the performance appraisal, with a similar categorisation – low, moderate or high potential. The assessment is based on the employee’s current job role but is also used to predict their future capabilities.
- Low potential – Employee is working at full potential and is not expected to improve.
- Moderate potential – Employee has the potential to further develop within their current role.
- High potential: Employee is eligible for promotion, either immediately or within two to three years.
It’s important to note that both an employee’s potential and performance are linked to their current role, so if an employee is grouped in the low potential or low-performance box, it does not necessarily mean that they should be fired. They may just need to be given a different role that best fits their skill set, or perhaps they need help in adjusting to the company culture.
Performance Management Using The 9-box
1. Talent at bay (low potential | low performance)
These employees score low on performance and potential and are placed into the bottom left corner of the grid.
We could term talent at bay employees as bad hires – employees who should not have been hired in the first place. This is not because they are bad in themselves, but because they lack the needed skills, are unable to meet the requirements for their role, and do not fit into the work culture.
An ideal line of action would be to identify roadblocks to their performance and try to help them remove them or help find another internal role where their skills would best be put to use. If all of these efforts fail, your organisation might have to let them go.
2. Stabiliser (low potential | medium performance)
The stabiliser falls into the second box at the bottom of the grid. This group of employees are putting in some effort. They are willing to work, contribute consistently to the company goals, give medium performance, and do well enough to not be fired from their jobs.
For this group, it’s best to give them feedback on their performance, coach them on becoming more innovative, identify specific areas of improvement, and help them develop a personal improvement plan, giving them enough time to move into the high-performance category, with regular check-ins to note their progress.
3. Technocrat (low potential | high performance)
Technocrats perform well when they are told what to do but have limited potential and low motivation for growth. This group of employees are essential to the company culture because they have a good attitude towards work, do their job well, and are not likely to leave the job soon.
The low potential score of technocrats indicates that they are not ready for the growth and responsibility a promotion would require, so it’s best to keep them happy in their current roles.
If possible, try to help them learn to take the initiative and look at ways their work might change in the not-too-distant future, and identify ways to meet those changes.
4. Inconsistent player (medium potential | low performance)
Inconsistent players have high potential and are excited about their job, but their performance is low. It’s important to find out the cause of this. Are they confused about their job expectations? Perhaps they are facing personal issues, trying to keep up with organisational changes, or were not properly onboarded.
This group of employees have skills, so they need in-house mentoring, motivation, and development opportunities to improve their performance. It also helps to clearly communicate expectations and let them know what is expected from them.
Their personal improvement plan should give them enough time to move into a higher performance category and should include assigning them stretch goals for growth and regular, documented check-ins with their supervisor.
5. Solid professional (medium potential | medium performance)
These employees are potential assets to the organisation and should be invested in. Solid professionals perform well in their current roles and have good potential for growth and future promotions.
You can support them by giving them new projects and assignments that will keep them engaged and motivated and start to prepare them for future opportunities by training them in people management.
Solid professionals can be further developed by clearly communicating expectations and opening doors for learning opportunities to them. Be sure to track their performance and reward them accordingly, including recommending them for promotions when and where applicable.
6. Current star (medium potential | high performance)
Current stars are already meeting and exceeding targets and KPIs and are on track for a good growth trajectory within the organisation.
You can manage this group by keeping them engaged in their role and recognising the work that they do. Find out if they are ready for growth and increased responsibility or if they need more time to develop themselves. While still in the current roles, be sure to give them the opportunity to develop tactical and strategic thinking skills, which will be useful for their future in the organisation.
They can also be exposed to stretch assignments that will help them understand how other aspects of the business function.
7. Rising stars (high potential | low performance)
This group have high potential but are scored low in performance. They can handle a broader role but are experiencing challenges that affect their current performance.Rising stars need to know the expectations for their role so they can do better.
Support them with positive feedback from their managers, clear communication of goals and expectations, and more opportunities to gain experience and build confidence.
8. Potential gem (high potential | medium performance)
Growth employees are valuable team players that uphold the work culture and meet all performance expectations. All they require is more exposure to become high performers.
Provide them with training opportunities, stretch assignments and track their progress. Ensure that their KPIs and job requirements are clear and give them room to grow.
9. Consistent star (high potential | high performance)
These are star performers who have mastered their role and are fully ready to move on to the next role. Within the organisation, they are known to be problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and self-motivated people.
They need to be promoted on time to keep their engagement and retain them. Consistent stars are the future leadership of the company, so it’s important to let them know that they are valued. Provide them with new challenges to stretch them, provide opportunities to raise their public profile, improve their network, and ensure that they receive competitive compensation and benefits.
Benefits of The 9-box Grid
1. Helps to identify valuable talent
The 9-box matrix can help identify high performing employees with high potential and note areas they need to improve in. This way, the company can effectively manage its resources on engaging and developing these employees. Internal opportunities can be easily directed to these valuable talent.
2. Helps to channel post-appraisal actions
After performance appraisals have been completed, the categorisation of employees in the 9-box matrix can help HR and line managers plan and execute post-appraisal actions towards the development of the employee.
It also helps to ensure a system of consistent communication so that employees are always receiving feedback on how they are doing and what they can do better.
3. Supports the improvement of organisational processes
If the 9-box matrix shows that a large number of the workforce falls under low potential and/or low-performance box, then there could be a flaw in the recruitment process. The matrix can expose the need for improvement in the hiring and recruitment process and even improve the organisation’s learning and development plan.
In summary, the 9-box matrix helps to give senior management a snapshot of the workforce. It is useful in succession planning, helping organisations identify and groom upcoming leaders, seeing as continuity in leadership is crucial and managerial roles take time to fill.
Succession planning with the 9-box matrix makes the likelihood of being unprepared for the exit of managerial level staff to be significantly reduced.
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