Learn What Is A 9 Box Grid and How To Use Them

Aug 18, 2023 | Appraisals and Performance Reviews

performance management 9-box grid graphic

In the dynamic world of Human Resources, organisations are continually seeking effective methodologies for optimising employees’ performance. In receny years, one such tool that has emerged as a potential game-changer is the 9 box grid . But what exactly is a 9 box grid, and how do you utilise them? Interestingly enough, as a heads up – you can have more than 9 boxes!

Without further ado, allow me to guide you through this empowering tool.


Decoding the 9 Box Grid

Considered by many as a cornerstone in employee performance management, a 9-box grid is a versatile tool, that aids managers in evaluating an individual’s current performance. The key is to assess performance against two separate measures. These are usually Performance and Potential, but we will see later that there are other measurements you could consider.


Empty 9-box grid


Let’s start with the basics and stick with performance and potential for now. First and foremost, a 9 box grid is a visual tool that helps managers evaluate and categorise employees based on their performance and potential. Essentially, it consists of a 3×3 grid, with one axis representing an individual’s current performance level and the other axis representing their growth potential. By doing so, managers can place employees in different boxes within the grid. Consequently, HR managers can gain valuable insights into their development needs. Furthermore, this system allows them to make informed decisions about promotions, training opportunities, and succession planning.


Breakdown of the 9-Box Grid

The 9 Box Grid Dual axis

The tool is a matrix of 9 boxes arranged across two axis – the vertical axis indicating the ‘Potential’ and the horizontal axis ‘Performance’. Each of which has 3 ratings.

For example, the 3 performance ratings might be:

  • Great
  • Good
  • Needs Improvement

And the 3 potential ratings might be:

  • High
  • Medium
  • Reached Potential

Giving you a 9-box grid like this:

Labelled 9-box-grid

The Nine Boxes

Three levels of performance and potential produce nine combinations, each represented by a box. These boxes help present whether an employee is underperforming, solid, or a high performer and illustrate the worker’s potential to rise to higher responsibilities.

So, once an employee has been rated on both axes, they end up in one of the 9 boxes, like this top performer (me!):


top performer in a 9-box grid

How To Use A 9-Box Grid

This all sounds pretty neat so far, right? Yet, you might be pondering, how exactly do you use a 9 box grid? Well, let me break it down for you.

To begin with, you’ll need to assess each employee’s performance and potential. Interestingly, one often overlooked advantage here is this: Assessing potential and performance separately is much easier to do than trying to combine the two in a single rating.

To gather this information, you can rely on a combination of performance reviews, feedback from managers and peers, and objective data such as sales figures or project outcomes. In fact, if you are using some sort of performance appraisal software, you’ll likely capture this information as part of the performance review process seamlessly.

After collecting the necessary data, you can plot each employee’s position on the grid based on their ratings. So, what’s the outcome? A comprehensive overview of your workforce, highlighting high performers, high-potential individuals, and those who may need additional support to reach their full potential.


Interpreting The 9 Box Grid Results

When it comes to interpreting the results of the 9 Box Grid, there are a few key factors to consider. At its core, this assessment tool is designed to help organisations identify and label employees based on their potential for future growth and performance. Thus, by categorising employees into different sections of the grid, companies can determine where individuals stand in terms of their current and future potential.

Moreover, it’s often useful to define what it means to be “in” any of the 9 boxes. Doing so creates a common language across your organisation, ensuring clarity and shared understanding. For instance, you might define the top right box (representing Great Performance and High Potential) as your “High Fliers”. Once defined, it becomes crucial to outline a strategy for how you are going to retain and nurture those standout employees.



Example 9-box Grid Meanings

This is an employee who may not be currently performing well but has the potential to grow. They might be new in their role or require more training.These employees are solid performers and show a lot of promise for taking on more responsibilities or advancing.These are your star employees who not only perform exceptionally well but also have high potential for future leadership roles or other significant responsibilities.
These employees are currently underperforming but might do better with some additional training or a change in role.Average performers that might grow into a more significant role, but are currently not ready for larger responsibilities.Employees who excel in their current roles but may not be suited for much more significant responsibilities or higher roles.
These employees are struggling in their roles and may not have the potential to take on more. They might require intensive coaching, a different role, or, in some cases, managed out of the organisation.These are solid contributors in their current roles but are not expected to grow beyond their present position.High performers in their current role but not expected to progress further.



Reaping Benefits of the 9 Box Grid

The 9-box grid is not simply a tool; it’s a comprehensive development focussed on the employee life-cycle.

  • Resource Optimisation: It has helped countless organisations identify where to invest their time and efforts for the best results.
  • Succession Planning: The grid’s ability to highlight potential future leaders is second to none, allowing businesses to ensure never-ending progress.
  • Workforce Development: The grid highlights employees’ strengths and weaknesses and identifies areas where they need training and development, ensuring we recognise all talent.
  • Talent Identification: It helps to pinpoint top talent for succession planning and leadership programs.
  • Development Conversations: Provides a framework for feedback and discussions around career development.
  • Training & Development: Can inform decisions about what kind of training and development resources to allocate to different employees.
  • Decision Making: Helps guide decisions regarding promotions, demotions, or potential exits

Tips For Using 9 Box Grids

Use Larger Grids

You don’t have to have 9 boxes, there’s no “rule”. We find that 9 boxes is quite restrictive – it effectively only gives you 3 choices per axes, which means you miss the nuances. 4 choices (16-box grid) or even 5 choices (25-box grid) might work better for you.


Maybe Use Uneven Grids

Remember me saying that there are no rules? Well, there is no rule to say that there has to be the same number of choices per axes either. You could have 3 for Potential and 4 for Performance (a 12 box grid).


Combine Cells for Ease

If you have a larger grid, you might find it hard to describe the difference between 2 boxes on the grid. No problem, you can combine them, like this. In this 25-box grid, we have grouped boxes into 6 types. And for each type, you define an action.



Alternative 9 Box Grids

When customising the 9 box grid for your organisation, it’s crucial to ensure that the chosen parameters align with the company’s goals, values, and strategic directions. It’s also important to communicate the purpose and criteria clearly to employees so they understand the evaluation process and its significance.

So far, we have talked about Performance vs Potential, but there are other options you could consider.

For example: 

Performance vs Behaviour

In this case, we are interested in an employee’s behaviour. They might be great at delivering, but annoy everyone in the process!


What vs How

Similar to the above, but with ‘softer’ labelling


More 9-box Grid Examples

Engagement vs. Competence:

  • Engagement: Measures the passion, commitment, and involvement of the employee in their role and towards the organisation.
  • Competence: Assesses the skills, knowledge, and ability of the employee in their current role.

Skill vs. Will:

  • Skill: Assesses the employee’s capability and proficiency in their role.
  • Will: Assesses the employee’s motivation, drive, and desire to perform in their role.

Cultural Fit vs. Skill Set:

  • Cultural Fit: How well an employee aligns with the company’s values, beliefs, and ways of working.
  • Skill Set: The range and proficiency of skills that the employee possesses.

    Innovation vs. Execution:

    • Innovation: Evaluates an employee’s ability to bring new ideas, think outside the box, and contribute to the company’s innovative initiatives.
    • Execution: Measures how well an employee implements ideas, completes tasks, and meets their role’s requirements.

      Teamwork vs. Individual Contribution:

      • Teamwork: Assesses how well an employee collaborates with others, contributes to team goals, and supports colleagues.
      • Individual Contribution: Evaluates the direct impact of an employee’s individual work and how much they contribute independently.

        Technical Proficiency vs. Soft Skills:

        • Technical Proficiency: Measures an employee’s expertise in specific technical areas pertinent to their role.
        • Soft Skills: Assesses skills such as communication, leadership, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.


        Unusual 9-box Grids:

        Strategic Thinking vs. Operational Efficiency:

        • Strategic Thinking: Evaluates the ability of an employee to think long-term, identify opportunities, and help set the direction for the organisation or department.
        • Operational Efficiency: Assesses how well an employee performs routine tasks, maintains processes, and ensures the smooth operation of daily activities.

        Growth Trajectory vs. Current Contribution:

        • Growth Trajectory: Assesses how quickly and how much an employee has grown in terms of skills, responsibilities, and impact over time.
        • Current Contribution: Measures the immediate value an employee brings to their role and the organisation.

        Client Feedback vs. Internal Performance:

        • Client Feedback: An assessment based on feedback from clients or external stakeholders about the employee’s performance.
        • Internal Performance: Evaluates performance based on internal metrics, feedback, and KPIs.

        This Period vs. Previous Period :

        Great for seeing progress over time.




        In conclusion, the 9-box grid stands out as a transformative tool that can propel your organisation towards unparalleled success. By taking the time to customise this grid in alignment with your company’s specific goals and values, you have at your fingertips a mechanism to comprehensively evaluate employees, pinpointing their strengths and areas ripe for enhancement. This not only fosters a culture that champions growth and development but also amps up overall productivity while smartly trimming down costs.

        Equally important is the act of communicating the core intent and evaluation criteria of the 9-box grid to all your employees. In ensuring this, you provide a clear roadmap of the evaluation process and underscore its pivotal role. Such transparency paves the way for genuine dialogue and steadily nurtures a foundational trust within the organisational fabric.

        For those seeking a streamlined and user-friendly avenue to bring the 9-box grid to life, PerformanceHub emerges as a top performance review software recommendation. Armed with its suite of sophisticated tools and templates, you are empowered to craft custom grids tailored to your company’s unique requirements. Beyond just grid creation, PerformanceHub is your trusted ally, dispensing on-the-spot reports and solutions, thus rendering the entire evaluation process both painless and efficient.

        In essence, don’t let the idea of it being complex scare you. The huge benefits of the 9-box grid are too good to miss. Jump right in and use this tool today, and watch as it changes your organisation into a strong sales machine. Remember: success comes from hard work and smart planning.


        Final Thoughts

        So, what are you waiting for? Take the first steps towards success and check out PerformanceHub’s Employee Analytics for all your 9-box grid needs. You’ll be amazed at the obvious improvements it brings to your organisation. Start driving your team towards greatness today!


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