The 9-box grid is one of the best-known talent management tools around. Created in the 1970s, the tool plots an organisation’s talent pool against two axes: performance and potential. But what is the state of play with the 9-box grid - is this popular, but decades old, tool fit for purpose to manage the talent of the future?
Our recent research suggests that most talent pipelines underdeliver. Heads of Talent and Learning shared with us that talent is assessed sporadically, typically when one-off decisions are needed, and those identified as ‘ready later’ talent rarely move to ‘ready now’. These themes also arise when you start to look at the drawbacks of the 9-box grid. A common complaint is that completion of the 9-box is an arduous, annual cycle, which takes managers months to complete, providing (most often) subjective ratings of their team’s performance and certainly of their potential. Once completed the 9-box is reviewed, a few people might make it onto a development programme or be reassigned to a critical role, but otherwise, it remains stagnant until the process is revisited a year later (and probably with little change). As a result, once someone is labelled ‘low performance, low potential’, this perception is hard to shift and they are likely doomed to sit in that box whilst they see out their time with the organisation.
So why has the 9-box remained so popular? It’s important to have a spread of talent across the organisation. If everyone was identified as ‘high performance, high potential’, there would be a steady churn of talent out of the organisation as it struggled to keep up with the aspirations of its people. Used in the right way, it’s a useful exercise to see where your talent sits so that investment can be targeted in the most appropriate way for maximum returns.
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