What is the 9-Box Model & How to Use It [Free Template]

4 minutes • Mar 16, 2020HR
9-Box Model for HR & How to Use It article 2

Improving employee performance and tapping them for future leadership roles are just a few of the ways you can increase job satisfaction and retention rates. The 9-box model is a simple, free tool that helps HR and managers accomplish all that and more.

This guide covers what the 9-box model is, why it might be the right tool for your company, and how to use it for the best results. There’s also a free, customizable template to help get you started. Before you know it, you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on with your workforce as a whole and how best to support individual employees on their career journeys.

What is the 9-Box Model?

The 9-box model, also known as the 9-box grid, is a visual tool used by HR to facilitate discussions with managers about employee performance and potential. During the discussion, employees are mapped within one of nine boxes mapped along a y- and x-axis.

Free 9-Box Grid Template
9 box Model

The x-axis describes the employee’s performance in their current role, which may either be low, moderate, or high. The y-axis usually describes the employee’s potential, which also ascends from low to high, although the meaning of the y-axis can change depending on an organization’s priorities.

It’s important to note that just because an employee might be mapped to the low performer/low potential box doesn’t necessarily mean they should be let go from the company. Both potential and performance are linked to an employee’s current role. Everyone thrives in different environments at different work, so understanding where your people each fit in the 9-box right now can help you address any issues they may be having or if another role in your company is a better fit.

Benefits of Using a 9-Box Grid

There are several benefits of using a 9-box grid, from planning employee development to identifying future leaders of the team.

Identify potential leaders

Current employees often make strong candidates for future division leaders, vice presidents, or C-level executives. A 9-box grid can help identify who these employees might be and what professional development they need to be successful. Not only does this help the company retain talented people, but the opportunities for career advancement and learning new skills can contribute to an employee’s overall satisfaction.

Plan employee development

Knowing which box an employee falls into shows HR and managers how they can best support the employee toward reaching their next career goal. Here’s a template with suggested action items in each box.

9 Box Model Example

For example, this 9-box template shows that an employee with low performance but high potential might be an excellent candidate for coaching or mentorship.

Plan organizational improvement

The 9-box model can also highlight ways the organization as a whole can improve, such as a more thorough recruiting and hiring process, which might include changes to job descriptions and processes, among other things.

The model can also help identify several potential leaders. In that case, you might want to invest in coaching products, leadership development retreats, and other training tools to develop new leaders.

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How to Use a 9-Box Grid

While downloading a 9-box grid template is a solid start, you’ll likely need to tweak its format or language to fit your company’s values. You’ll also need to consider how to implement the model into your current performance review process.

Define desired outcomes

Will the 9-box grid help you identify leaders, plan employee development, improve the organization, or something else entirely? Knowing exactly why you’re using the model will have an impact on how you use it. Consider facilitating a discussion between HR, managers, and company leaders to decide how to use the 9-box grid so that it aligns with company-wide objectives.

Adjust the y-axis

Some HR specialists argue that objectively and fairly measuring for potential is difficult, if not impossible. Depending on the priorities of your organization, you may want to measure something other than potential along the y-axis, like aptitude for change or job-specific responsibilities

Deciding which category to focus on can happen during the same meeting when you define the desired outcomes for the 9 box assessment.

Schedule initial evaluations

HR and managers should schedule time to discuss the 9 box assessment immediately following annual performance reviews, when managers will have employee evaluations fresh in their minds. HR will be able to help them crystallize those evaluations and develop steps for improving employee performance throughout the coming year.

Encourage open-mindedness

Just because an employee is identified as a low performer with moderate potential doesn’t mean they can’t turn things around and exceed their goals, especially with the right support and training. HR and managers who practice open-mindedness empower employees to grow and change beyond their current situation. Leaning too heavily on labels, meanwhile, disempowers people and creates an unhealthy work environment.

Schedule review meetings

In the spirit of open-mindedness, HR and managers should schedule follow-up meetings to reassess employees with the 9-box grid. Quarterly meetings can evaluate which steps have been successful at improving employee performance and if further action is needed.

Improve Employee Performance

With a 9-Box Grid Ready to identify your company’s future leaders, plan employee development, or improve organizational processes? This 9 box template will get you started.

Free 9-Box Grid Template
9-Box Grid Template

The template includes descriptions of each box, suggested action steps, and room for employee names. You can replace labels along the y-axis, rewrite box descriptions, or come up with new action steps depending on what professional development resources are available at your org.

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