The 9 box grid is a popular performance assessment tool. Companies use it to explore employees with high potential and discover future leaders. This tool is primarily used for talent management and succession planning.

In this article, we will discuss the 9 box grid in detail and explain how talent management and succession planning can be applied to each box in the grid.

Let’s begin with getting a better understanding of the 9 box grid.

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What Is the 9 Box Grid?

The 9 box grid is a tool that evaluates an employee based on the performance in their current role and potential to grow in and beyond their role.

Have a look at the grid below.

9 box grid


The horizontal axis indicates performance while the vertical axis signifies potential. The higher an employee is on the grid, the more potential they have. The farther they move away from the vertical axis, the better their performance. Employees who land in the top right corner of the grid are a company’s star performers. Not only do they perform well but exhibit the tremendous potential to grow in their careers.

On the contrary, employees who are found in the bottom left grid are the lowest performers with little to no potential to advance in their roles or careers.

As mentioned earlier, the 9 box grid is a succession planning tool as well. When performance and potential are plotted on the grid and employees are evaluated accordingly, succession planning takes over. Employees who are in the top right box of the grid are shortlisted and considered for succession while those in the bottom left quadrant are not. They may be reassessed or removed from the organization altogether.

How to Create the 9 Box Grid?

The 9 box grid is created to assess each employee based on their performance and potential and then summing it all together.

Assessing Performance

Performance can be assessed and categorized into three categories: low, moderate, and high.

Low performance: The employee is not performing and has failed to achieve their goals.

Moderate performance: The employees match their job requirements and have met their goals partially.

High performance: In this category, employees are doing great in terms of their performance and meeting their goals.

This structure of assessing performance depends on the job description and goal achievement. However, some companies evaluate performance based on other factors such as the ability to work in teams or 360-degree feedback. However, one must be careful when using the former structure. Sometimes managers may scale up employees as moderate when they should be categorized as low performers.

Assessing Potential

Potential is assessed in the same way as performance-high, moderate, and low. However, the potential is evaluated based on performance. Here’s how it is evaluated:

Low potential: The employee has reached their full potential and is not expected to improve. This could be due to reaching maximum capacity or simply because of a lack of motivation.

Moderate potential: In this case, an employee has the ability to advance in their current role in terms of performance or expertise.

High potential: The employee is performing well and is being considered for promotion either immediately or in the next two to three years.

Now here is an important point. Potential and performance are considerably different from each other although they may be scored using a similar structure. An employee who is a low performer may require more training, clearly defined objectives, or may not be fit for the role. On the contrary, an employee with a low potential may be working at their maximum capacity. It could also mean that their current role does not allow them to grow beyond a certain point. You cannot label them as bad hires but you may not consider them for succession.

However, an employee labeled as a low to moderate performer but demonstrates high potential, can make it to your succession plan.

Combining It All Together

Once you have the scorecard for performance and potential, you plot them on the 9 box grid. The grid will give you a clear view of where each of your employees stands. You can then start working on developing strategies on how to improve, retain and promote them.

Quadrants of the 9 Box Grid Explained

Let’s deep dive into each quadrant in the grid one by one and see how you can apply your company’s talent management policies to each.

Bad Hires

9 box grid - bad hires


Bad hires score low on performance and potential. They are known by the name because they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

If bad hires stay for long in the company, they end up becoming liabilities instead of assets for the company. Investing in these employees can cost money, time, and energy. Also, the organization may lose its credibility as well. Moreover, if nothing is done about bad hires, they lower the performance standards and set a bad example for other colleagues.

However, now that the company has them on board, how can it deal with them?

Action plan 

A few steps that you can take to deal with bad hires are:

  • Identify roadblocks that may be hampering employee performance.
  • Have a one-on-one meeting with low-performing employees and identify if there are other assignments that could make better use of their skillset.
  • If nothing works, collectively figure out a role that best suits their competencies.

If bad hires are a common phenomenon in your company, then you may want to revisit your talent acquisition and recruitment policies.

Up or Out

The next quadrant is the up or out. This category is further divided into two:

Up or out grinders: These are employees with moderate performance but low potential

Up or out dilemma: These individuals are characterized by medium potential but low performance.

9 box grid - up or out


The grinders perform moderately but do a good enough job to maintain their place in an organization. However, they do not demonstrate the potential to learn and grow. Therefore, investing in them won’t pay back much. However, to make them high performers, you can help them identify their areas of improvement and let them work on them.

If you feel that their performance has become stagnant, then you will have to make the tough decision: up or out

The dilemmas have the potential to grow exponentially but are not performing as expected. As a manager, your strategy should be to identify the reasons behind it. There could be several of them such as:

  • They are new hires who had a bad onboarding experience
  • Not clear on their role and what is expected of them

You can intervene by ensuring they partake in coaching or mentorship programs. If they continue to struggle, then it’s time to let them go. However, before jumping to any conclusion, create an action plan that can help them. Here is an example for you:

Action plan 

  • Create a personal improvement plan for them and identify the roadblocks. Clarify what skills are required of their role and encourage them to acquire those in case they don’t possess them. Set quantifiable expectations so they exactly what and how to achieve.
  • Keep a monthly check on them and evaluate their performance. Hold monthly meetings with them and make sure to document them well. This will allow you to revisit them and analyze the progress.
  • If nothing works, then make an exit plan collaboratively. Although you are letting them go, you are also helping them identify roles that suit them well.

Workhorses and Dysfunctional Geniuses

The top left corner and the bottom right corner of the grid represent employees who do well in only one element of the matrix.
The workhorses score high on performance but low in potential. Such employees are important to your company and you must take care of them. Appreciate and reward them because they perform well and meet their targets. However, don’t over-reward them. Or else it will create a golden cage. According to this phenomenon, people sit comfortably in their roles without any motivation to switch jobs or grow in their careers. As a result, they ignore upskilling opportunities and trends in the industry.
9 box grid - workhorses
The problem with workhorses is that although they perform well in their jobs, they don’t take the initiative to grow or learn new things. And considering the times we are living in, work dynamics can change at any point. Promoting workhorses to roles of higher responsibility will only create havoc. So it is better to keep them in roles that can make do with their current skill set.
Here’s what you can do precisely:
Action Plan 
  • Keep workhorses happy since they are high performers.
  • Do not promote them although you may give them raises and bonuses.
  • Analyze how their role is bound to change in the future and prepare them as much as possible.

On the other end of the spectrum are dysfunctional geniuses. These employees are high on potential but low on performance. Here is what you can do to keep improving their performance.

Action Plan 

  • Give them time to develop. Performance improvement doesn’t happen overnight especially if you want it to be stable and solid.
  • Clearly communicate what is expected of them in their roles.
  • Let them know that you believe in their potential to grow but that they need to focus on improving their performance as well.
  • If nothing works out and their performance doesn’t improve then maybe they need a new role. You can either find a new one in your organization or let them go so that they can find it elsewhere.

Future Stars

Future stars are comprised of three categories: high potentials, core players, and high performers. They make up for a company’s core workforce and have the ability to transition into more advanced roles.

9 box grid - future stars


High potentials score high on potential and moderate on performance whereas core players perform moderately on both. Both categories can contribute tremendously to the success of an organization. So, here are a few steps that you can take for them.

Action Plan 

  • Set clear expectations and requirements.
  • Give juniors sufficient time to develop and improve their performance.
  • Appreciate their accomplishments, performance, and initiatives.
  • Have a one-on-one with them to ensure they are learning and enjoying their role.
  • Practice job rotation with both the groups so that their exposure increases.
  • Encourage them to seek coaching from high-performing employees.
  • Provide training and on-job learning opportunities so that they are able to widen their skill sets.

High performers on the other hand are already doing well. Here is an action plan for them.

Action Plan 

  • Because they are close to becoming star performers, it is important you keep them happy and engaged. Praise their work every now and then.
  • It is not necessary that high performers will eventually become stars. It may be the case that they’re happy in their role and do not want extra responsibility. And that’s because not everyone in the company has to be a star performer.
  • If they have leadership traits then you can give them challenging assignments and leverage job rotation. This will expand their horizon and build their business acumen. It will prepare them for more advanced roles in the future.
  • Find them a coach or mentor and provide them with adequate learning and training opportunities.


Finally, the stars. They’re a business’s A players who are valuable and play a big role in succession planning. How do you retain them within your organization?

9 box grid - stars


Action plan 

  • Hand over challenging assignments to them.
  • Check-in regularly with them to spot early signs of dissatisfaction. Appreciate them openly for their contributions to the business.
  • Build network opportunities where they can connect with other stars of the company.
  • Give them roles in external boards and committees and raise their public profiles.
  • Ensure that their compensation is competitive.

9 Box Grid for Succession Planning

As mentioned earlier in this article, the 9 box grid is an essential tool that helps managers in succession planning.

The focus should be on the stars who have the ability to mould the future of an organization. They are the key figures in the matrix where critical roles are mapped and allotted to employees as per their capabilities.

Moreover, the 9 box grid also helps in making investment decisions. For example, if you have $100 to spend on employees, how will you do so? Naturally, a business should allocate their resources more towards employees who have the ability to perform and grow well for example stars, core players, high potentials, and high performers. An organization should not invest in less promising employees such as bad hires because it will cost them time, money, and effort. The image below will clarify it further.

9 box grid talent management



Retaining top talent is a crucial part of any organization’s strategy. But before you create a retention plan, you must know where do your employees stand in terms of performance and potential. And you have the solution right in front of you. Implement the 9 box grid in your business and discover employees that will either stay longer or have a limited duration left in your organization.