9 Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid – Is it Worth It?


Every employee working in the organization is considered an asset for the company. The employer makes sure that every employee is working towards the success of the organization, and that their performance is aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives. When assessing employee performance or considering the value of an employee for an organization, an HR professional needs to assess two dimensions

  • Employee’s current contribution
  • Employee’s future potential

The assessment of employees’ current contribution regulates the performance of their teams to ensure appropriate recognition and reward approaches.

On the other hand, assessing future potential helps employers identify individuals who have the potential to grow into future leadership roles, which is also known as succession planning.

To identify strategies for developing, retaining, and working with the current talent, HR professionals use the 9 Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid, which could also be called the 9-Box Grid.

What is the 9-Box Grid?

In simpler terms, 9-Box Grid provides a framework in which employees are divided into nine groups, based on their performance and potential. This framework manages the employees of the entire organization and helps the employer identify every employee’s individual performance and growth potential, according to which the employer could take appropriate actions in the future.

The 9-box grid maps employees against two axes, i.e., current performance and future potential. The vertical axis (y) indicates growth potential, referring to an employee’s potential to grow into leadership roles. On the other hand, the horizontal axis (x) represents an employee’s current performance, identifying whether they are below, meeting, or exceeding performance expectations set by the employer.

The 9-Box Grid simply forms the relationship between performance and potential.

Advantages of 9-Box Talent Grid

The 9-Box Grid is a great talent management tool that offers organizations several benefits, such as:


HR professionals are no mathematicians or scientists, they already have too much on their plate, and some of the other tasks are way too complex or difficult. However, the 9-Box talent grid is very easy to use and easy to understand. During your employee review, all you need to do is match the employee to the right box based on their performance and potential levels. The structure of the grid makes it easier to visualize and understand, even for someone who is completely new to this tool.

Helps to Identify Valuable Talent

The 9-box talent grid allows you to spot high performers within the organization, who have the potential to develop their skills and abilities to become future leaders. It helps you strategize and direct your resources in such a way that you can engage with high performers and offer them great development opportunities. Moreover, when it is time for internal promotions, the 9-box grid gives you an idea of the suitable candidates for these opportunities.

Increases Transparency

The 9-box grid approach requires open and honest communication between the employer and the employee. Through the 9-Box grid, the employer can evaluate the performance and potential of every employee, and based on these results the employer can convey their expectations to the employee. The 9-Box grid model also allows you to identify those employees who have very low performance levels and are generating more trouble for the organization than profit, then, in this case, you will know what measures or actions to take against those employees. The 9-Box grid encourages a one-on-one conversation between the manager and the employee, and these discussions help clarify leaders’ expectations of the employees for contributing to the organizational goals.

Highlight Development Opportunities

As discussed earlier, the 9-Box Grid helps the employer identify employees who are not working hard toward achieving organizational goals. The employer cannot fire those employees after looking at the results, instead, a good manager helps the employee achieve their goals more efficiently. The negative results of an employee might be due to some issues, such as family problems, lack of understanding, lack of resources, etc. The employer must identify the cause of the negative result for the employee and should provide the best support to help them reach their next career goal and develop these team members into better performers in the future.

Disadvantages of the 9-Box Talent Grid

With several benefits, the employer also faces a lot of challenges while using the 9-Box talent grid. Here are a few of them:

Distinguishing Between Performance & Potential

Even though performance and potential are both different words, having different meanings, yet, several people fail to distinguish between these two words. Without a clear definition or understanding of both of these concepts, it could be very difficult to understand the core difference between them.

Moreover, organizations usually have a well-defined method to evaluate performance; however, evaluating potential is not that common in many organizations, which results in individuals being rated inaccurately on potential.

Employee Reactions

Everyone loves to hear praises, but when it comes to healthy criticism, people usually are not ready for that. If you decide to be transparent and honest with your employees and share performance information, with the intention to make them understand where they are lacking and how to improve their performance, employees may get discouraged, which could even lower employee morale.

Employees who have been ranked lower on performance and/or potential levels may react negatively and could give rise to a toxic work culture. Moreover, in several cases, you will identify a high performer and a low performer working in the same team together. This might seem normal from the top, but this deeply disrupts teamwork and relationships in the organization.

Labels Employees

According to the 9-box talent grid results, if an employee has been identified as a low performer with low potential on the grid, then that employee is labeled with it. The management might treat the employee in a different way, or they might start seeing that employee differently from that point onwards.

Creating a 9-Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid

Creating a 9-Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid is quite easy, you just need to follow simple 3 steps, and you are good to go.

Step 1 – Assess Employee Performance

The first step is to assess the performance of an employee. The criteria to measure performance varies among organizations, depending on their objectives, needs, resources, etc. Despite the criteria for measuring performance, each employee has to be categorized into one of these three groups:

Low performers: These employees do not match their job requirements and fail to achieve their targets and goals. They show a lack of motivation and alignment with the organization’s vision.
Moderate performers: These employees partially match their job requirements and they just achieve their individual targets and goals on the brink.
High performers: These employees fully meet their job requirements, show consistent performance in all tasks, and achieve the set targets and goals very efficiently. These are the high achievers of the organization, and they work hard towards achieving organizational success.

Step 2 – Assess Employee Potential

The second step after assessing employee performance is to assess employee potential. An employee’s potential is defined by how much they are expected to grow in the future, their willingness to learn new things, and their ability to apply their knowledge in routine tasks. Assessing potential is not very common in organizations, therefore to make it easier to understand, performance is considered as the past behavior and potential as the expected future behavior of the employee. Just like employee performance, to assess potential, each employee has to be categorized into one of these three groups:

Low potential: These employees have either reached their maximum capacity or lack the motivation to grow further in the future.
Moderate potential: These employees have the potential to further develop in their current role in terms of performance or expertise.
High potential: These employees perform beyond the expectations of their position and responsibilities. These employees are prepared to take on leadership opportunities and to face any new challenges that come their way.

Step 3 – Merge Performance & Potential Into a 3×3 Grid

Once you have scored every employee as low, moderate, or high on both performance and potential, it is time to merge these scores and plot them on a 3×3 grid, resulting in your 9-Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid. You can use this grid to identify where each employee working in your organization stands.

9-Box Grids Explanation

As the name says, the 9 Box talent grid contains 9 boxes, each box having its own meaning and importance, let’s have a more detailed look at each of the boxes:

Bad Hires

In the bottom left corner of the 9-box grid, these are the employees who score low on performance and low on potential. Some other names for these employees are talent risk, underperformer, and iceberg. If we use more negative terms, then these employees can also be called ‘useless workers’ or who need to be ‘fired immediately’.

The name bad hires suggests that these employees should not have been hired in the first place, as they are now creating more trouble for the organization. Managing bad hires is extremely difficult, as investing in these employees will take away time, money, and other resources from employees who have more potential to grow. The quality of their work will also set lower standards for other colleagues, as their coworkers would be constantly assisting them and completing their work, which would eventually affect others’ productivity.

Up or Out

The next category in the 9-box grid is the up or out boxes. They include the medium performers with low potentials (up or out grinders) and the medium potentials with low performance (up or out dilemmas).

  • Up or Out Grinders
    The grinders or effective specialists are a challenging group to handle. The reason they are such a challenging group is the way they work. They will always work only how much is sufficient for them to not get fired. Therefore, investing in these employees is of no use as it is not going to pay off. The best approach is to create a personal improvement plan, where you can help them understand where their points of improvement are, and giving them an opportunity to work on it.
  • Up or Out Dilemmas
    The dilemmas or inconsistent players have some potential to grow in the future but they are not performing at that level. To understand the cause of their low performance, you have to identify the issue that has caused it. The issue could be a bad onboarding experience, or maybe they don’t understand what you expect from them, or something like that. As they have the potential, you can enroll them in peer coaching or other mentoring programs to check whether they move towards high performance or not.


In the bottom right corner of the 9-box grid, we find the workhorses, who are also known as trust professionals. These are the employees that have high scores in performance but are low in growth potential. These employees are the main assets of your organization because they perform well and have a good work mentality, so you should take care of them.

The only problem with workhorses is that they don’t have a growth mindset. In today’s dynamic world, everyone’s work is bound to change at some point, but workhorses are the ones who may not be able to grow with their role. The post-pandemic work situations are completely different than the pre-pandemic ones, remote and hybrid working conditions have become very common, which has also opened numerous opportunities for many people around the globe. However, for workhorses, they don’t have any growth potential. You just need to keep them happy in their current role.

Dysfunctional Geniuses

In the top left corner of the 9-box grid, we find the dysfunctional geniuses, who are also known as enigmas or rough diamonds. These are the employees that have high scores in potential but are low in performance. These employees are highly important assets of your organization because they have high growth potential and are eager to learn.

They are simply low on performance, but with the right training and development strategies, these employees can do wonders for your organization. The only thing with dysfunctional geniuses is that you need to continuously track their performance in order to increase their performance rapidly.

High Potentials

In the top middle box, you will find high potentials or growth employees. These employees score high in potential and average in performance. They might not be given the proper resources or understanding to fully grow in their role, but with adequate resources, they can achieve what you are expecting.

Core Players

In the middle of the grid, you will find the core players. These are the employees who are reliable performers and who also have the potential to grow further in their current roles. These are the ones who have scored moderately on performance and potential. You should provide classroom training and on-the-job learning opportunities to overcome any skill gaps that hold them back. For more instant results, assign them projects and tasks, consider them for job enlargement, and praise them for good performance to motivate them.

High Performers

In the middle of the last column, you will find the high performers. These employees are already in a good place, they have high performance and moderate growth potential. They contribute to the organization at its fullest, so the key strategy is to keep them happy and engaged. You also need to provide them with certain opportunities which make them available for the job currently, and for years to come. If the high performer is ambitious and looking for promotion, then you will want to improve their potential with different interventions.


In the top right corner of the grid, you will find the stars, also known as future leaders. These are the employees who are high performers and are also capable of taking on new roles, which means that they also have high potential. These are the most valuable employees for your organization, so your main aim should be to keep them satisfied and happy.

You can use the stars at their maximum capacity, try to engage them, and keep them interested. It is highly advisable to invest on stars, such as giving them access to mentorship programs, development programs, training, seminars, etc. You must reward them and ensure that they receive competitive compensation. These employees contribute the most to your organization, so make sure you reward them accordingly.

Final Thoughts

The 9-box grid model helps manage employees with different levels of performance and potential in your organization. The results of the 9-Box Talent Review & Assessment Grid help organizations use it for performance management, talent management, and succession planning. The aim of the 9 box talent grid is not to label your employees, but it is to evaluate their successes and ensure that your organization invests in the right development strategies for them.