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Nine-Box Assessment

9 Box Assessment Demystified: An In-Depth Glossary

What Is a 9-Box Assessment?

HR professionals equip managers with a variety of appraisal tools to help them assess their team members’ performance, but managers don’t always have as much input on their teams’ potential. That’s why a 9-box assessment is such a powerful tool for gaining a manager’s perspective on both an employee’s performance and potential for growth within the organization. 

Performance and potential are closely linked but are not the same thing. Using a 9-box grid, managers rank employees based on both criteria — giving you priceless insights into your workforce so you can make better talent management decisions.

Discover what a 9-box grid is, what it can tell you about your workforce, and how to implement a 9-box assessment model that’s effective and fair.

Source: Sigma

9-Box Grid Assessment 101

A 9-box assessment is a grid used to evaluate an organization’s employees on two separate criteria: performance and potential. Each axis is rated on a nine-point scale, with 1 representing the lowest level and 9 representing the highest level. 

The goal of a 9-box assessment is to provide an objective measure of both an employee’s performance and potential to help identify the most capable and promising employees. It also can be used to help identify which employees may need more training or development to reach their full potential.

Key 9 Box Definitions to Know

Two axes intersect in a 9 grid: performance and potential. “Performance” typically refers to an employee’s current job-related accomplishments and how well they fulfill their role or meet established objectives.

“Potential,” on the other hand, indicates an employee’s capacity for growth, development, and future success within the organization and is used to identify future leaders. When identifying potential, managers assess an employee’s ability to take on new challenges and responsibilities beyond their current role.

Every employee falls into some combination of six different levels of performance and potential. Check out these 9-box definitions to learn what each of those levels says about your employees. 

Low Performer

A low performer in a 9-box model is an individual who isn’t meeting expectations and whose performance is below average. There are many reasons for low performance, including poor support systems, ineffective talent management, or simply being in the wrong role. Employees with low performance ratings can still have future potential. Consider an employee with an autism spectrum disorder: They may struggle with social interactions and therefore perform poorly as a retail sales associate, but they may thrive in a merchandising or inventory role.

Moderate Performer

A moderate performer generally meets expectations. They demonstrate an ability to improve their performance but are not yet high performers. They can consistently deliver good results but may not have the same level of creativity or productivity as a high-performing employee.

High Performer

A high performer in a 9-box model is an individual who consistently exceeds expectations; achieves outstanding results; and demonstrates exceptional skills, dedication, and productivity in their role. High performers are typically recognized for their ability to consistently deliver exceptional performance and contribute significantly to the success of their team or organization.

Low Potential

Employees with low potential show limited capacity for growth, development, or advancement. They may exhibit deficiencies in skills, motivation, or suitability for taking on broader responsibilities, making them less likely candidates for leadership positions or high-impact roles within the organization. These employees may not be the best candidates for promotion, but they can be solid performers in their current roles.

Moderate Potential

Employees with moderate potential exhibit some potential for growth and development within an organization but may require additional training, experience, or skill development to excel in more advanced roles. They’re capable of improvement and may be considered for opportunities with the right learning and development efforts.

High Potential

High potential in a 9-box model refers to employees with exceptional promise, capabilities, and the capacity for rapid career growth within an organization. They typically possess a combination of skills, leadership qualities, and a strong work ethic that makes them prime candidates for future leadership roles or positions of significant influence.

Want to learn more about performance management? Check out our glossary post!

4 Benefits of Using a 9 Box Model

By addressing both performance and potential, the 9-box model offers a more refined picture of your workforce. Here are some of the benefits you can gain from applying a 9-grid assessment model in your organization.

More Objective Talent Evaluation

A 9-box assessment promotes objective talent evaluation by providing a visual representation of performance and potential, allowing for the comparison of employees across a range of criteria. This helps to ensure that decisions about talent are based on measurable criteria rather than subjective opinions. 

While evaluations start with individual managers, HR leaders can follow up with a calibration process — when managers and HR work together to agree on criteria. Having set criteria for each axis gives managers an objective rubric to follow when assessing employees, increasing visibility, and reducing the risk of bias.

Better Succession Planning

A 9-box model enhances succession planning by providing a structured framework for evaluating and categorizing employees based on their current performance and potential for future growth. 

This visual tool allows organizations to identify high-potential individuals who not only excel in their current roles but also are capable of assuming leadership positions in the future. By plotting employees on this grid, companies can allocate resources, tailor development plans, and prioritize succession efforts effectively, ensuring a steady pipeline of talent to fill key roles and drive long-term organizational success.

Looking for a tool to help with succession planning? Check out our career & performance solutions. ▶️

Improved Talent Retention

Employees who see a path for growth and development are more likely to stay with the company. A 9-box assessment helps to identify those star performers with high potential so you can take active steps to retain them. The model also allows you to proactively address performance and potential issues, helping to prevent talent from leaving because of unmet expectations or a lack of growth opportunities.

More Effective Risk Management

A 9-box assessment helps manage performance risks by providing an easy-to-use framework for evaluating employees on multiple dimensions, such as competencies, potential, and performance, which can provide insight into potential areas of development and identify key areas of risk.

Several low performers with low potential in one area of the organization could signal a common factor driving low employee engagement, or “quiet quitting.” Once you know you have a problem in that department, you can move forward with a solution before it puts the business at risk.

How to Implement a 9-Box Assessment in Your Organization

Implementing a 9-box assessment can be tricky if you or your managers have never used one before. Check out some practical steps and strategies for successfully implementing a 9-box assessment within your organization, from talent evaluation to alignment with your strategic goals.

Define Clear Criteria

When implementing a 9-box assessment, define criteria that can be applied uniformly. These criteria should include measurable and objective performance measures such as job knowledge, productivity, and attendance. Additionally, the criteria should be tailored to the specific job in question and should be updated regularly as job roles evolve.

Lead a calibration process to make sure that everyone is aligned on your definitions of “performance” and “potential” across high, moderate, and low levels. Calibration should involve HR and managers assessing employees along the 9 grid. In large organizations, calibration typically requires several meetings across leadership levels to arrive at the best, most widely applicable definitions.

Choose the Right Assessors

Select assessors who have an unbiased view of the employees being assessed as well as the required knowledge and experience to accurately evaluate their performance. Generally, the employee’s manager is the best person to complete the 9-box assessment.

Make sure all assessors understand and know how to apply the criteria developed during calibration as they carry out the assessment. 

Gain Consent to Collect Employee Data

Gaining consent for collecting employee data is an important component of employee communication around the 9 box model. When assessing performance and potential, managers refer to employee data to rank employees appropriately. Some data they use includes productivity metrics, feedback from managers and peers, and project outcomes as well as leadership qualities, skills, adaptability, and willingness to learn.

To gain consent to collect employee data when implementing a 9-box assessment, obtain written or verbal agreement from employees to ensure they understand how their data is being used. Generally, the data used during a 9 box is collected during other processes, such as performance management and learning and development. Your employee handbook likely contains information regarding the type of data you collect during these processes that employees have already reviewed and agreed to.

Conduct 9-Box Assessments

Help managers collect performance and potential data for each employee, which may include performance appraisals, feedback, project results, leadership qualities, and career aspirations. From there, managers can use this data to assess each employee’s performance and potential on a nine-point scale and map them to the nine boxes of the 9-box assessment program.

Review and Adjust

Hold calibration sessions following completion of the 9-box assessment to discuss and validate the placement of employees on the grid. This collaborative effort helps ensure objectivity and consensus in the assessment process. 

Over time, conduct scheduled reviews of the 9-box grid, typically on a quarterly or annual basis, to assess any changes in employee performance and potential. Compare the current grid with previous versions to identify shifts or trends.

Facilitate Feedback Sessions Between Managers and Employees

Conducting feedback sessions following a 9-box assessment involves scheduling one-on-one meetings between managers and employees to discuss their placement on the grid, performance, and potential. During these sessions, provide clear, constructive feedback; listen to their perspectives; and collaboratively develop action plans for career growth and development aligned with their assessed performance and potential.

Craft Development Plans

With the results of the 9-box assessment in hand, help managers work with team members to develop targeted growth plans. Review the 9-box assessment to identify employees with high potential and performance or those needing improvement. Understand each person’s specific strengths and areas for growth. 

Work with each employee to set clear, achievable development goals based on their placement on the grid. Goals should be specific, measurable, and aligned with their career aspirations and the organization’s needs. Design development initiatives and training programs that cater to each employee’s unique needs and goals. This might include mentoring, on-the-job training, workshops, or leadership programs.

Integrate the 9-Box Assessment With Other HR Processes

Integrating a 9 box assessment with other HR processes involves aligning talent management strategies. Incorporate the 9 box results into performance reviews, succession planning, and individual employee development plans, ensuring a cohesive approach to talent development and organizational growth. 

Additionally, sharing 9-box insights with recruitment and onboarding processes helps in identifying external talent with the desired potential and performance levels for strategic roles within the organization.

5 Common Challenges of the 9-Box Model

No employee assessment model is 100% foolproof. Watch out for these common challenges as you implement a 9 box grid in your organization.

Subjectivity and Bias

Subjectivity and bias from individual managers filling out the 9-box grid can lead to inaccurate, inconsistent, or discriminatory ratings that don’t truly reflect an employee’s performance and potential. Make sure managers “show their work” by providing examples and explaining why they ranked an employee a certain way.

Misunderstandings of the Model

Misunderstandings of the 9-box model can lead to inaccurate assessments of employees, which can cause difficulty in properly assigning compensation and development plans. This can lead to costly misalignment of resources and expectations. Provide ample training and content to help managers understand the purpose of a 9 box assessment and how to use the grid correctly.

Resistance to the Process

Resistance could lead to a lack of trust and commitment to the program, making it difficult to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the assessments. Managers may not want to add more meetings and processes to their already full plates, for example. Explain the benefits of the 9 box for streamlining performance management and employee development.

Over-Reliance on the Model

Over-reliance on a 9-box model can manifest as a tunnel-vision approach to talent management, where other critical aspects of employee performance and potential are overlooked. This narrow focus may lead to missed opportunities for holistic talent development and hinder the organization’s ability to adapt to changing needs.

Communication Issues

Communication issues can present a significant challenge to effectively implementing a 9 box assessment program, as they can lead to confusion over expectations, misinterpretations of feedback, and a lack of clarity around the purpose of the assessment.

5 Frequently Asked Questions

Want to know more about 9-box assessments? Check out these frequently asked questions!

How Often Should You Conduct 9 Box Assessments?

Nine box assessments should be conducted once or twice a year. The calibration process to produce objective results can be time-consuming and may not be practical to carry out more than once per year.

How Does the 9-Box Grid Differ From Other Assessment Tools?

The 9-box grid provides a more comprehensive view of an employee’s performance and potential compared with other assessment tools, which typically focus on a single aspect, such as skills or competencies. Additionally, the 9-box grid provides a more holistic approach to evaluating an employee’s performance and potential, as it considers both quantitative and qualitative factors.

Will the 9-Box Model Work for All Organizations?

No, the 9 box model may not work for all organizations since each has different needs. The best candidates for benefiting from the 9-box model are organizations with a strong focus on talent development and leadership succession planning as well as a desire to identify and nurture high-potential employees.

How Should You Address Employees Who Disagree With Their Placement on the 9-Box Grid?

If an employee has an issue with their placement on the 9 box grid, it should be addressed in a respectful and understanding manner. Allow the employee to voice their concerns and be open to making changes, if necessary, to ensure they’re placed in the appropriate position. An employee may draw your attention to a project that was overlooked when completing the 9 box, for example, leading to a reassessment of their placement.

How Can HR Software Help You Implement a 9-Box Model?

HR software can help you implement a 9-box model by providing an easy-to-use graphical user interface to visualize employee performance data as well as automated tools for sorting and gathering feedback from stakeholders. This allows HR teams to quickly and efficiently evaluate employee performance and create actionable plans for improvement.

The Evolution and Future of the 9-Box Grid in Modern HR

The 9-box grid has become an increasingly popular tool in modern HR, as it allows for more nuanced performance evaluations and provides a framework for career progression. It’s expected to continue to evolve in the future, offering more detailed insights into employee potential and providing better guidance for career development.

Ready to take next steps? Check out our career and performance solutions.