The Nine Box Talent Grid is a performance management, calibration and succession planning tool. It helps organizations assess their employees across two dimensions, current performance and future potential.

Summary by The World of Work Project


The Nine Box Talent Grid

When assessing performance or otherwise considering the value of an individual to an organization, leaders should assess two dimensions: the current contribution made by the individual and their future potential.

The assessment of current contribution helps leaders calibrate the performance of their teams to ensure appropriate recognition and reward. The assessment of future potential helps leaders identify individuals with high potential. These individuals should be invested in and may be included within the organization’s approach to succession planning.

One tool that makes it easier to assess individuals against these two dimensions is the nine box talent management grid. The matrix is sometimes known as a performance management matrix or simply the nine box grid. The grid is very simple and helps organizations group employee performance, and ensure consistent treatment of employees in different performance groupings.

Interestingly, McKinsey actually developed the Nine Box Talent Grid. It was originally a strategic tool to help leaders prioritize their investment between competing business units within a corporate portfolio. Only later did it evolve into the HR tool that many people are familiar with today.

The Nine Box Talent Grid in more detail as a matrix

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How to use the Nine Box Talent Grid

The nine box grid can be a useful tool, provided that it is used consistently and effectively within an organization. For this to be the case, the different parties using this tool should have a clear understanding of why they are using it, how they should use it and how others use it as well.

Organizations and the Nine Box Talent Grid

To ensure that nine box grids are used effectively at an organizational or business unit level, organizations should define what each of the boxes mean to them. They also need to be clear about what indicators they will use to assess performance and potential. It follows that they must also be clear on what the organizational response / action is for each of the nine employee categories within the grid.

As best practice, organizations should also publish this information. When they do this they ensure that everyone in the organization is clear on this information and ensure that leaders and individuals are using the nine box grid consistently.

Individuals and the Nine Box Talent Grid

To make the best use of nine box grids, individuals should be clear on how their organization uses them. Individuals should be clear on the specific HR processes in place, as well as what each of the boxes in the grid means in their organization.

Individuals should also ensure that they have clear objectives against which their current performance can be measured. They should also have clear development plans in place that help them direct and evidence progress in relation to their future potential. With this information they can have effective and helpful conversations with their managers and leaders.

While the nine box grid process is helpful, it can be difficult for individuals as well. The more clarity of understanding individuals have in relation to the process, and the more preparation they do for the associated conversations, the more effective they will find them to be.

Managers and the Nine Box Talent Grid

Managers should, of course, help ensure that the individuals within their teams have clear objectives. They should also have regular, effective, appropriate and ongoing development conversations with the individuals in their team throughout the year.

When assessing individuals, managers should assess each individual in their team and allocate them to a box within the grid. This allocations should based on their organization’s agreed and published guidance. Once they have done this, managers should have a meeting as a peer group to ensure they fairly calibrating their ratings with their peer groups. Later, managers should also help progress the organizations response for each of their individuals and have effective, honest conversations with their individuals about their assessed performance and potential, and what this means for the individual over the coming year.

Leaders and the nine box grid

Leaders should review their organization’s The Nine Box Talent Grid and understand their teams’ talent and performance profiles. In doing so they should gain assurance that the process is as fair and well calibrated as possible. They should also plan succession and agree how to invest in and accelerate the progression of their “top talent”, usually the “inverted-L” (three top right boxes) within the matrix.

It doesn’t take much effort to get to know someone.

In addition to these fairly distant activities, leaders should also personally get to know their talented individuals and celebrate their successes and progress. As ever, our view is that the human side of leadership is hugely important.

Learning More

Understanding how people are performing and what their potential is is helpful and important. One factor that often affects performance is the skill and will of individuals. To guide their performance you might be interested in learning more about Balanced Scorecards and goals. Improving your ability to reinforce and provide feedback will also be useful. You can listen to one of our podcasts on feedback below:

The World of Work Project View

In our view, The Nine Box Talent Grid is useful when applied well. Unfortunately, assessing and calibrating performance and potential is hard even with good tools. And leaders and organizations often use this tool poorly. This is the case particularly where pooled employees perform different roles or there is limited organizational guidance.

We know that many organizations are stepping away from more traditional performance management approaches, such as this one. We think that this is probably a good thing. However, it’s still good to know about this process and tool.

We suggest that if leaders or organizations are looking to use the nine box grid that they invest in using it properly. When individuals, managers and leaders do not have time to do this process properly, it can feel nepotistic, unfair and ultimately may become demotivating, inaccurate and highly time-consuming.

The original work behind this topic, “the GE-McKinsey 9-box grid” relates to product portfolio management, not employee performance management. You can read more about it on the McKinsey website: here.

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