What Is the Nine-Box Model? Definition, Benefits and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 11, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The nine-box model is a simple and effective way to evaluate your organization's talent pool. If you work in a company's human resources or management teams, being familiar with the nine-box model can improve the quality of your employee-related decisions. Using the nine-box model can help you professionally, and you can gain all relevant information about it through research. In this article, we discuss what the nine-box model is, who can use it, what its main benefits are and tips for using it effectively.

What is the nine-box model?

The nine-box model is a grid that you can use to evaluate your organization's talent pool by assessing each employee's potential and current performance. It consists of a vertical and horizontal axis, in which there are nine boxes arranged symmetrically in the form of a grid. The horizontal axis indicates the employee's performance level, while the vertical axis shows the employee's potential. The higher the box in which an employee is placed, the more potential they have for professional growth. Similarly, employees on the far right of the horizontal axis are the organization's top performers.

The nine boxes an employee can fall into are:

  • Low performer, low potential: The employee may be suited for reassignment or for exiting the organization.

  • Low performer, moderate potential: With the appropriate coaching, the employee could progress to perform an adequate job.

  • Low performer, high potential: The employee is an experienced professional with the right skills to advance in their role, but with additional issues that may require mentoring or coaching.

  • Moderate performer, low potential: The employee is effective at their job, but likely to have reached their peak potential.

  • Moderate performer, moderate potential: The employee may be considered for professional advancement in the future, but doing so could require extensive coaching in multiple areas.

  • Moderate performer, high potential: The employee is able to perform their role according to the organization's standards and could further improve their job performance in the future with the right coaching.

  • High performer, low potential: The employee is very effective at doing their job, but they have likely reached the peak of their career.

  • High performer, moderate potential: Although the employee excels at their current role, they still have room for further improvement.

  • Higher performer, high potential: The employee performs multiple job-related tasks at a very high level and could potentially improve their performance even more.

Related: The 8 Functional Areas of Human Resources

Who can use the nine-box model?

Human resources employees and company managers at all levels can use the nine-box model to evaluate the performance of current employees and determine which ones have the most potential for advancing within the organization. Placing each employee in one of the nine boxes allows these professionals to visualize employee effectiveness and the likelihood that they can succeed in higher roles. C-suite executives, like the CEO and COO, may also use the nine-box model to look for promising candidates they could promote to higher-level roles within the organization.

Related: 16 Habits of Highly Productive People

Benefits of using the nine-box model

Some of the main benefits of using the nine-box model are:

  • It's easy to implement. Organizing a nine-box model is relatively straightforward and all nine categories are intuitive, making it easy to implement for your organization. Also, having visual elements helps you identify potential gaps in your talent pool.

  • It helps you plan for the future. By assessing your employees' potential levels, you can create a plan for the organization's medium and long-term future. Depending on the overall potential of your workforce, you can predict the future need for new employees in key positions.

  • It helps identify employees' needs. Placing employees in nine different boxes according to potential and performance can help you determine what the company needs to do to help some improve their performance and others realize their potential.

  • It shows employees' role suitability. The nine-box model can help identify employees who would potentially perform better in other positions than they are in at the moment. By identifying employees with high potential and low performance levels, you can explore ways to help them realize their potential.

  • It enables collaboration and communication. The nine-box model can help human resources and management teams collaborate and communicate more effectively, as it makes it easier to identify common goals. Once the model exposes various elements, like talent gaps or insufficiently used high performers, team members need to work together to find solutions.

  • It motivates employees to perform better. Employees who know where they are on the nine-box grid tend to be more motivated to improve their condition. If they lack performance, they are more likely to work on improving it, and if they show potential, they are more likely to work on reaching it.

  • It can save the company money. Identifying the potential and performance levels of the organization's employees can help reduce spending on assessment courses, training programs and other external solutions for categorizing employees and improving their performance.

Related: 10 Careers in Human Resources Management

Challenges of using the nine-box model

These are some of the potentially challenges you may face when using the nine-box model:

  • It doesn't evaluate management potential. Although it's an effective way of measuring performance and potential for employees in executive roles, the role of a manager is usually too complex to assess this way.

  • It can be rigid. Placing people into categories is not an exact science, and some employees may not entirely fit any of the nine boxes or be miscategorized. You can reduce the odds of that happening by making sure you thoroughly assess each employee and constantly reevaluate their position on the grid.

  • It can demotivate some employees. Discovering that your organization's management or HR department considers you as being a low-performance or low-potential employee can affect motivation. The company can avoid this situation by not making the grid public or by constantly reassuring employees that they can improve their status.

  • It can be subjective. Since the criteria for employee performance and potential are often complex and difficult to fully define, placing each employee into a box is ultimately a subjective decision made by a manager or HR professional. To avoid this potential challenge, the company needs to implement objective metrics and criteria for both categories.

Related: Guide to the Process of Human Resource Planning

Tips for using the nine-box model:

Consider these tips when implementing the nine-box model:

  • Define your desired outcome. The company's stakeholders need to collaborate on aligning the nine-box grid to a company-wide goal, like identifying potential leaders, improve the organization's talent pool or any other major objective.

  • Perform the evaluations after annual performance reviews. It's important that the evaluations are as objective and fact-based as possible, and a good way to ensure that is by asking department managers to use the nine-box model to assess their subordinates right after an annual performance review. This way, each employee evaluation is up to date, and it gives each employee the chance to improve until the next evaluation.

  • Encourage employees to improve their situation. Remind employees that their place on the nine-box grid is not permanent, and with hard work and focus, they can improve their condition.

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