Nine-Box Performance Grid: A Guide for Managers

As an employer, it’s important to have high-performing employees who can grow alongside your company. A nine-box performance grid is a free tool that can help define your company’s goals and standards and evaluate employee performance and potential. Learn what the nine-box performance grid is, its benefits, how to create one and the answers to frequently asked questions regarding this assessment tool.


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What is the nine-box performance grid?

Also known as the nine-box performance matrix, the nine-box performance grid is an assessment tool used by employers and a company’s human resources department to evaluate employee performance and growth potential. The grid helps you visualize the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s talent. When used collaboratively within your company’s leadership team, the nine-box grid can help you develop strategies to improve your workforce.

Related: Employee Evaluation Form 


How does the nine-box performance grid work?

The grid measures employee growth potential on the y-axis and employee performance on the x-axis. The intersection of these vertical and horizontal columns is the employee’s current standing. Individuals in the top right box (box one) are high-potential, high-performing candidates. These candidates are likely to attain a leadership role within the organization. Individuals in the lower right box (box nine) are candidates with limited potential and poor performance. These individuals need to improve, move to a different role or leave the organization altogether. Any employee in boxes two to nine has room for improvement.


Benefits of the nine-box performance grid

The nine-box performance grid assesses an employee’s performance and potential, which allows management to make improvements within the company based on these findings. Here are the main benefits of the nine-box performance grid:

  • Succession planning and leadership potential: The nine-box performance grid can provide you with a map to your organization’s future leadership roles. The grid allows you to recognize an employee’s strengths and weaknesses and determine whether it’s possible to develop them for senior roles.
  • Role compatibility: It allows you to determine whether employees can meet their job’s expectations and if you need to take action. For example, if an employee is underperforming, you could move them to another role that better suits their skills or consider termination.
  • Creation of company standards and goals: The nine-box performance grid allows you create clear goals and standards to evaluate employees against. For example, you can create criteria that classify an employee as a high performer.
  • Performance tracking: This grid allows you to determine an employee’s strengths, weaknesses and ability to develop and improve their performance. Determine this during a grid reassessment meeting.
  • Collaboration: It promotes teamwork among an organization’s leadership positions. Everyone involved in the grid’s creation can offer opinions and ask questions to create an objective and effective performance tool.


How to create a nine-box performance grid

An effective nine-box performance grid can help your company in both the long and short-term. Follow these steps to create a nine-box performance grid:


1. Prepare early

When you create a nine-box performance grid, all leadership and human resources staff should understand how it works. Give them time to ask questions and gather their thoughts prior to the meeting to create your organization’s grid.


2. Set the criteria standards and ask questions

Ensure all relevant roles agree on the grid’s criteria and the standards each employee must meet. Since the definition of potential can vary from person to person, mutually decide what it looks like within your organization. In terms of the nine-box performance grid, an employee’s potential reflects their ability to get promoted.

Consider certain attributes and assessments that can help you best grade your employees. Encouraging the leadership team to be objective and identify concerns as they arise allows the results to remain consistent throughout the process.


3. Foster discussion and analyze results

Determine where each employee fits on the nine-box performance grid. Consider their experiences, training, projects and feedback they’ve received in the past and whether they used it to their advantage. This gives you an idea of how they’ve grown in the past and helps you determine their growth potential. Encourage an open dialogue and listen to everyone’s opinions objectively. This helps you take full advantage of the grid’s benefits and accurately assess your workforce.

Once you place employees within the grid, analyze the results and determine if their placement is accurate. This helps foster discussion, particularly for supervisors who wish to speak on their employee’s behalf.


4. Regroup and reevaluate

Schedule regular catch-up sessions to address staffing changes. Reevaluating the grid can help it retain its effectiveness by determining whether employees have improved or developed their performance since the grid’s creation.

Related: How to Conduct an Employee Evaluation


FAQ about the nine-box performance grid

Here are some frequently asked questions about the nine-box performance grid:


Does the size of the nine-box performance grid ever change?

The number of boxes an organization uses depends on their needs. The grid’s size differs based on the detail an organization wants to put into it regarding employee data and company programs or funding.


How does the nine-box performance grid determine role suitability?

Because the grid allows you to see an employee’s weaknesses or room for improvement, it helps you consider if they’re in the right role. It lets you determine if they can meet their current responsibilities, if they need reassignment to another role or whether termination is ultimately necessary. For example, high-performers excel in their position and therefore don’t need reassignment.


What does a template for a nine-box performance grid look like?

Nine-box performing grids can vary by organization. Here is a template to use for your specific needs:

Under Performance Effective Performance High Performance
High Potential Box 5: [Criteria] Box 2: [Criteria] Box 1: [Criteria]
Medium Potential Box 8: [Criteria] Box 6: [Criteria] Box 3: [Criteria]
Low Potential Box 9: [Criteria] Box 7: [Criteria] Box 4 [Criteria]


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