How to identify and develop talent using the 9-box grid

Reading time: 10m

AuthorNick DaviesChief Commercial Officer (CCO)
Reading Time10 minutes

How are your employees performing now and what is their likely level of performance in the future?

As we noted in our previous blog post, learning professionals are breaking down traditional silos and spending more time with their HR chiefs and other executives. Organisations see L&D and HR as two aspects of the skills acquisition and talent strategy.

Without a robust talent management plan that brings together HR, L&D and the wider business, it can be difficult to map career paths and transition your top performers into more senior roles in future.

Learning and development, as we discussed in our previous post, has a central role to play in talent management and succession planning in 2023.

Allow us to introduce you to the 9-box grid for talent management and succession planning.

What is the 9-box grid for talent management?

The 9-box grid, developed by McKinsey in the 1970s, is a useful tool for performance management, talent management and succession planning within the business. It began as an assessment framework for General Electric (GE) to prioritise its investments across the business. However, it has since been adapted for the HR function for the selection and recruitment of employees based on performance and potential.

An example of the typical 9-box grid used today can be seen below.


How does the 9-box grid work?

The boxes on the grid indicate where people are currently performing mapped against their potential for development. For example, the people in the top-right box (the most desirable position, with maximum performance and potential for growth) are likely to be your future leaders.

Those in the boxes beneath may take a little longer to reach this point, but investing in their development should eventually move them into leadership roles (albeit over a longer period of time).

The 9-box grid is a great tool for determining the potential, risk and impact of the loss of existing talent. It also helps inform where training resources should be allocated and helps to ensure the best return on investment for learning.

What are the advantages of the 9-box grid for talent management?

Why should you consider using the 9-box grid for talent management? The advantages include:

  • It encourages dialogue and discussion around internal talent management and succession planning between HR, leadership and L&D teams.

  • It’s an easy-to-use framework that is relatively quick to create and iterate.

  • It helps you identify high-potential employees and informs the allocation of resources to those who will hold key positions in the future.

  • It helps improve succession planning and career development for the workforce.

However, it’s important that you’re completely familiar with how the 9-box grid first before you put it into practice if you want to reap the benefits from its use.

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What are the disadvantages of the 9-box grid for talent management?

When used well, the 9-box grid is an effective planning tool for your workplace talent management strategy. However, it’s important to note that like any framework, it has limitations. You might want to consider the following:

  • It confines your employees to specific labels, affecting how they are perceived by members of management

  • If you choose to share this information, some low-ranking employees are likely to become demotivated or resentful of their position on the 9-box grid

  • Employees who are high performers may not necessarily make the best managers, nor might they want to move into a managerial position

  • Decisions made using the 9-box grid are likely to be subjective

These drawbacks are just some of the reasons organisations are looking for ways of supplementing the information from the 9-box grid to provide a more holistic understanding of talent and succession planning.


A smarter way to manage talent with technology

There are organisations that use the 9-box grid well and find it a highly effective tool for supplementing talent management and succession planning. However, like most frameworks, the 9-box grid is not a silver bullet.

The Lancaster University Management School whitepaper ‘Talent Management: Time to Question the Tablets of Stone?’, acknowledges the benefits of the 9-box grid but points out its flaw in the over-emphasis on a ‘Talent as Critical People’ philosophy. This philosophy is counter-balanced by other activities and systems that contribute to the talent management process. In other words, you also need to consider the systems and support you put in place within your organisation.

Take Thinqi’s learning system, for example. Success profiles enable the organisation to align core competencies and behaviours to job roles and to associate each of these competencies with a piece of learning. Each success profile represents a career pathway, which enables learners to see exactly what they need to become proficient in their role and helps to motivate them to continue improving. Learners also have the option to see success profiles for other roles, which promotes increased career mobility and improved succession planning.

Accompanying this with the 360 evaluations tool enhances this self-led experience and ensures everyone is able to assess themselves against the success profiles and ask others to assess them too. Finally, Thinqi’s reward and reporting mechanisms can be used to identify any ‘ready-now’ talent, along with the talent that will be ready soon with time and support.

This isn’t about simply creating labels. This is about empowering people to take charge of their own development and motivating them to reach higher through the power of learning.

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