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9 Box Grid for talent management

McKinsey - a Management Consulting Company created 9 Box Grid in the 1970s for General Electric for prioritizing the investments in different business units. They made it to measure two parameters: industry attractiveness; another competitive strength. Since then the HR departments use the 9 Box Grid for assessing employee performance and competency potentials as a part of HR analytics. Moreover, some consulting groups also use the 9 Box Grid for measurement of performance, and organization–cultural values, and alignment of behaviors purposes.      

9 Box Grid’s 9-assemblies are as mentioned below:

  1.  Under-performers OR Talent-Risk OR Bad-Hires
  2. Out/Up Grinders
  3. Out/up Dilemmas
  4. Core players
  5. High Performers
  6. High Potential
  7. Non-functional / Dysfunctional Geniuses
  8. Work-Horses
  9. Stars

The 9 Box Grid has potential/prospect at its Y-axis (that is at the vertical upwards) and performance on its X-axis (that is horizontally measured rising to the right side). The following pictorial would make it clear:

The strategic level management in organizations often see the employees from two perspectives categorically:


Explaining 9-Box-Grid’s 9-Assemblies

The following is the explanation of 9 Box Grid

 1. Under-performers OR Talent Risk OR Bad-Hires

The 9 Box Grid has on the bottom left side the employees' category named as Bad-Hires, Under-Performers, or they are also known as a risk to the organizational talent. These are the employees who are not good or bad both at performance as well as at prospects i.e. potential, are known as Under-performers OR Talent-Risk OR Bad-Hires. Their performance evaluation may set bad example for others. At first lace, they were hired, but now their performance is a risk for the employer if they are with you for a long time! Therefore, Organizations deal with these sorts of human resources at a fast pace. Employers should not over-invest in these kinds of under-performing talent-risk bad-hired employees. It is better that employers / HR should have sit-in with such employees to figure out the basic problem(s) behind such under-performance and try to solve the same for a total win-win good for both the employers as well as the employees. Another possibility can be outside your organization they might have better opportunity to match their talent, which they are not able to in your organization due to any reason, and refer-forward these people to other concern(s) in your circle,

2. Out/Up Grinders, 3. Out/up Dilemmas

The 9 Box Grid has on the middle left side and the mid of the bottom, employees category named as out / up dilemmas and out / up grinders, correspondingly. These medium performing employees and low potential known as out/up grinders. And, the employees having medium potential but low performance is known as out/up dilemmas. Things like peer-coaching and mentoring programs may help these sort of employees improve their performance. Even after getting into personal interest, arranging training for them; and evaluating such employees after six months period by the employer(s), the exit schedule – though the difficult decision – has to be taken for such employees.

4. Non-functional Geniuses, 5. Work-Horses

The 9 Box Grid has on the top left side and the bottom right side employees’ category of the employees named as non-functional geniuses and workhorses respectively. These are the employees who have reached only one attribute of the 9 Box Grid is the employees on the top left side in the 9 Box Grid are those who have excelled in the potential growth but they are low performers so far! On the other hand, the people in the 9 Box Grid on the bottom right side are those who are doing their best in performing their jobs but they have no potential for future growth! Though they are routine workers and are not switching their jobs, rather they have very good retention with organizations they work for the years and years-long but on the same line of action most probably. They are not in line with digitalization, say for example in any sector you have seen so far. It is better for the employers to keep such work-horses employees in their current role and keep them happy as they are performers for you at all. Employers should, however, help such work-horses for future possible developed roles they might face. Work-horses employees’ promotions should not be done until they are made up to such levels by training exposure etc. but a nominal raise in their salaries may keep them happy.

On the contrary, the Non-functional geniuses employees’ performance should be tracked and be given chance to learn within the current employment. They say for example the recent graduates who are eager to learn and are geniuses but their performance to rising would require definite time which should be given to those by the employers. However, employers should communicate the exact expectations to them. After all, if the performance of such Dysfunctional geniuses is not raised, their exit plan may be planned by the employers, after at least one year’s attempts waiting for performance improvement, it could not be gained.   

6. Core players, 7. High Performers, 8. High Potential

The next three kinds of human resources in 9 Grid Matrix are Core players, high performers, and high potential employees working in your organization. Core players are the employees are the people who are at the middle level of performance as well as they have a middling level of potential to grow. While high performers are the workers who perform at the highest level and they have a moderate level tendency towards growing potential. The third sort of employee in the 9 Grid Matrix is the high potential keeping employees and they usually possess middle-level performance.

The strategy for all these three categories of employees is suggested for strategic level management to focus on the betterment programs to develop those to become stars (keeping highest performance as well as the highest level of potential for developmental growth) of the organizational chart within 9 Grid Matrix. The discussed three types are also known as the future stars for the employer(s).

 9. Stars

The last item in the 9 Box Grid is the top right box containing Stars who are the employees possessing the highest performance and have the highest level ownership of potential for growth. They are also known as future leaders, who are able to take up new roles.

Stars must be retained to avoid their switching and for saving the organizational HR turnover, curtailing recruitment costs – they are given perks instead. They are the assets for the employers, and accordingly should be compensated. Stars should be given chance to interact with senior leadership and members of the organization so they foster more their talent to the next level known as leadership. If stars are interested in some members of boards, say inside or outside representation of the employers, they should be given so, consequently raising them to the up level from their current position in the organization. They have a tendency to be part of the strategic level planning as well, hence should be given chance to participate there as well. Stars are usually role models for others, and therefore, they should be given additional roles like mentors and motivators for others. Also, the senior-level mentors and motivators should polish the skills of the stars for the further developmental cause of the individuals, resultantly the progression of the business takes place.

Employers must be having a bearing in the minds that if not given proper compensation in terms of finance as well as psycho-social environmental conduciveness, the stars may switch the organizations causing a jerk in performance as well as potential for growth for the organization.

Blue Areas of 9 Box Grid

Following are the 9 Box Grid’s blue areas defined:

They all are placed in blue color like a traffic signal stand by to start a movement, thereby they are the people who can be expected to rise, with a little put effort on to them. 


Red Areas of 9 Box Grid

Following are the areas in 9 Box Grid mentioned as a red color area

The employees put in Red Areas of 9 Box Grid are dangerous and a risk factor. They need coaching and training direly and on an urgent basis to avoid further danger to the employers and the employees themselves.  

Green Areas of 9 Box Grid

Following are the areas in 9 Box Grid known as Green areas

The employees placed under the green color of the 9 Box Grid are the key assets for the Employer(s) that they can be given next level and challenging roles of senior levels to be promoted in benefit for themselves and for the succession planning for the organization.   

9 Box Grid for Compensation Management

When strategic level decisions are made at any level of the organizational hierarchical chain of communication, command, and control, it is often seen from the eyeglasses of the value created by employees for the employer. Like what the employees are given wages to (get paid) and what they return back to the organization (jobs they perform), thus the work is rewarded and compensated financially.

9 Box Grid helps strategic decision making so as to how much one should be given resources to that is “who is to be paid how much”. This decision may be made utilizing the 9 Box Grid in terms of performance and potential.

Henceforth, the Stars are the topmost to be invested in, therefore they are usually /should be given the highest wages. On the contrary, the bad hires are the people who are / should be given the least wages. This does not mean that organizational strategic level people and HR department are not providing equality for all, rather it means that the stars are the most favorable employees for the employer matching and meeting the needs of the organization(s). This also works as a motivational tool for others to follow and be the star-assets and get paid as highest as possible. Other boxes in the 9 Box Grid are paid / should be paid more or less as per their performance and potential. The pictorial below would make it clear:

9 Box Grid for Succession Planning

9 Box Grid is an amazing assessment tool for succession planning. By utilization of this tool, human resources can be upgraded to their next level of professional development. As discussed before, the stars can be future strategic-level senior management employees and leaders. Similarly, Core players, High performers, and high potential employees are the future stars. Else, workhorses can also be trained for unleashing their potential hidden capabilities. Dysfunctional geniuses should be given performing tasks to complete with a vibrant team in a trial to convert them to a better level of performance. However, out or up grinders and out or up dilemmas can also be provided coaching to be better in the required capacity building. Moreover, bad hires can be imparted training to be better as well, as they are in the dire need of crucial conversation. To sum up, every level has a chance categorically to be placed into the level next.  

9 Box Grid: Critical Analysis

As the HR domain faces a usual critique for its procedural codes of conduct, rules, regulations, laws, and policies implementation all over the globe, 9 Box Grid is never the less amongst such lists.

As, the 9 Box Grid is a traditional once, or twice a year performance appraisal formed by one manager, etc., hence many organizations believe in regular feedbacks to overcome such one man show discrepancies and that per year! Again, 9 Box Grid is dividing employees into wages to rank or yank. Stars, core players, high performers, and high potentials are ranked and the bad hires may be fired as yanks.   

Contrary to the critical analysis, the intention behind advised usage of 9 Box Grid is

Final Words Inference

Finally, the inference is made, via 9 Box Grid the performance managers have eased to talk professionally about succession planning, which otherwise seemed difficult to talk directly about! Because succession planning is an essential part for a strategic level to follow up to save as well as foster the organizational businesses, it is the way very into this for the pivotal long-term decision-making process. Otherwise, the question remains unanswered that who will be the next manager, leader, or strategic planning member of the board of governors, for smooth operations and making strategic decisions, respectively!

The 9 Box Grid is not for labeling the employees in different categories, but fairly it is for the guidelines towards the strategic investment into the right direction for the organizations.

9 Box Grid assessment tool can be used as many times by the performance managers need to assess the performance of employees. It is an easy and transparent way to evaluate employees as they perform and have capabilities to grow – to fill in the blank areas as successors to predecessors.

Additionally, it is of the foremost importance that the employees must be communicated clearly about the mission and the vision behind such compensation management, and talent management and administration programs for the collective good creating a win-win situation for the employees as well as for the employer(s) at the same time.