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9 Box Grid-Lock

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The 9 box grid is a widely used tool but few people are completely comfortable with it, and there seem to be few alternatives.

The 9 box has dominated succession and talent management planning for longer than the term talent management has been in use – since the grid was first deployed by GE in the late 1960s.

The answer to unlocking the grid comes in two parts: firstly, robustly rating potential and secondly, altering the content of the grid to be more action-oriented. Most of the discomfort people have with the model is the subjectivity given to rating potential. We wouldn’t think to do this with the performance axis – we rely on objective data about goal achievement to determine whether someone is a low, medium or high performer, so why is it acceptable not to do so for an individual’s potential rating?

1. Robustly rating potential

We believe that the answer to this first part of the problem is to use a robust model to classify people into low, medium and high potential. Our model of potential is based on our own extensive assessment database of successful senior leaders and what makes them different. We then rate people against the criteria in the model of potential using a range of tools. Combined with a strong rating of performance we are then able to plot an individual into the 9 box grid.

2. Altering the content of the grid to be more action-orientated

This brings us to the second key question – what should the descriptions in the grid be? Most organisations will have a version of the grid with the top right defined as something like “High Potential”. At Kiddy we believe that the grid descriptions should be different depending on the lens being applied – to make them more action-oriented and meaningful to leaders. Taking one of the most common scenarios in which the 9 box is used – development planning – the top right position will contain descriptions of the activities that individuals need to undertake, such as a business school course, getting a mentor from the divisional board etc.

So by applying a model of potential to drive the rating and describing the 9 box grid in different ways, a much more robust and useful tool for leaders can be created.