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Guide on how to make and use a 9-box grid matrix

Employee and talent evaluation is one of the management functions that must be carried out as often as possible, where necessary. Among several things, this ensures that your company or organization has the right people in the right places handling the proper responsibilities needed for the company or organization to meet its goals and grow.

But carrying out employee assessment can be a daunting and tricky task, mainly because there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for evaluating rightly.

Have you ever had the experience of promoting someone to a particular office only to find it was a terrible mistake?

How about firing a supposedly underperforming employee only to see him or her go over to a competitor and become a star employee or even a great manager?

Incidents like these – losing high assets and promoting the wrong people due to an improperly carried out assessment – call for objectivity and a more dependable way for carrying out evaluations.

Unclear performance and situations like this are where the 9-box grid matrix comes in.

So, What Is A 9-Box Grid Matrix?

The 9-box grid is an assessment tool for evaluating both the current and potential contributions of an employee to an organization. It consists of vertical columns that measure an employee’s growth potential and horizontal rows that measure whether an employee is performing anywhere near or above performance expectations.

It’s a tool mostly used by managers in succession planning. With it, you can carefully evaluate the talent at your organization and identify potential leaders.

The 9-box grid matrix, in particular, consists of 9 boxes, each representing a degree or performance and growth potential.

Grading on the horizontal axis increases as you go from left to right. On the vertical axis, the gain goes from bottom to top. The vertical axis is the ‘Potential’ axis, while the horizontal axis is the ‘Performance’ axis.

The bottom left grid represents a low performer with low growth potential, while the top right gird represents high performance and high growth potential.

In a nutshell, employee performance is measured using the 9-box grid matrix by plotting his potential against his execution. Sounds simple right?

Origin and Adoption of 9-box grid

The 9-box grid has initially been a tool developed in the 1970s and used at General Electric (GE) in evaluating and prioritizing its investments across the 150 business units the company had at the time.

Not all of the company’s business units perform as expected, so Mckinsey developed a tool to measure the performance of individual business units, which helps to evaluate whether to invest in a business unit or not.

Somewhere within the last 40 years, the two parameters of industry attractiveness and competitive strengths became the right fit for Human Resource personnel. And is restructured for talent evaluation.

Now the tool is used by many people in evaluating employees based on different pairs of parameters,
including growth potential versus performance,
and goal accomplishment (what was achieved by an employee) versus performance behavior.

Benefits Of Using A 9-Box Grid Matrix

The role and benefits of using the 9-box grid matrix cannot be overdone. We have seen that it will help the organization and the HR team evaluate and put the right people in the right roles, but there are so many more benefits to using the 9-box grid. They include but are not limited to, the following:

  • Helping to classify critical parts and talents within an organization.
  • Grooming people for complex or senior leadership roles: The results from the evaluation you carry out will typically help you find out which people you should begin to groom for leadership or senior positions.
  • Identifying areas where your organization will need external recruitment: Sometimes, no matter how long you have been grooming people for specific roles, they’ll still not be the best fit for those roles. You will need to find talents from outside to come to fill those roles. But, it is essential first to assess your current abilities using the grid, before assuming any results.
  • Identifying employees within your organization that need further development: The Matrix helps you to determine who needs new construction and the areas that growth is required. After carefully evaluating your employees and analyzing the results, it would be clear who needs what and what they need to become better at their jobs or roles.
  • It helps the employees see areas where they need to begin making improvements: As the grid is built on parameters set forth by management, employees get grades and ranks. These grades and ranks help them assess the areas they are lacking and where they require growth based on parameters. (IMP: Make them aware of the model before evaluating them)

4 steps to create a 9-Box Grid Matrix

Having gone through what the 9-box grid is and its benefits to employees, Human Resource, and the management of an organization, let us consider how to create one. You can do this in four easy steps.

  1. Step 1: Decide On The Overall Parameters To Be Evaluated.

    The parameters to be evaluated will differ from organization to organization, so do not mindlessly lift those of other companies. Call your management staff and HR personnel and define the parameters to be evaluated. An example is to assess performance versus potential. We will use these two parameters going forward.

  2. Step 2: Pick One Of The Parameters And Define The Behaviors For It.

    For example, pick the performance parameter and define your performance behaviors and metrics. As stated earlier, this will differ from organization to organization. Categorize the responses and metrics into low, moderate, and high. In this case, define performance behaviors.

  3. Step 3: Pick The Second Parameter And Define The Behaviors For It.

    Step 3 is the same as step two above but involves defining the behaviors and metrics for the second parameters. As in the step above, categorize the responses and metrics into low, moderate, and high. In this case, define potential behaviors. While there may be clear standards and metrics for performance, potential can be particularly challenging to identify, primarily because it refers to the perceived future performance of an employee.

  4. Step 4: Plot A 9-Box Grid Of The Behaviors

    This step consists simply of taking the behaviors you have defined for each parameter and putting them into the appropriate grid in the 9-box matrix. The ‘behaviors’ you categorized as low, medium, and high are assigned into the corresponding grids with the smallest being at the bottom of the vertical axis and the left side of the horizontal axis.

How to use the 9-Box Grid Matrix

9-box grid, 9-box grid matrix, grid matrix, performance evaluation matrix, performance matrix
Once you have defined the behaviors and placed them the appropriate grids, you now have a tool for assessing and evaluating your employees.
All that’s needed is to have your employees provide their biographical information then you get your management team to evaluate each employee’s performance and potentials, placing them in the appropriate grids.
It would be unfair to under-state that the metrics and definitions used for evaluation must be clear to all to reduce personal interpretations. Everyone must be on the same page.
As you carry out your assessment, those in the top half of your Matrix, especially the top right, are your high performers with growth potential and are the people you may begin to consider for senior positions.

Those in the middle of the Matrix need further development. Those at the bottom, especially the bottom left of the Matrix, are your worse performers with the least growth potential.

Pros And Cons Of The 9 Box Grid Matrix

While the 9-box grid matrix is an incredible tool for assessment, like everything else, it has its flaws and limitations, so let’s take a look at some of its pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Consistency: It provides a platform for ensuring consistency in the evaluation process. Since the parameters and behaviors help in evaluating talents are defined beforehand and understood by everyone on the evaluation team, it is highly unlikely that results will be inconsistent due to misinformation.
  • Objectivity: It’s also a tool that helps to ensure that the evaluation process is done objectively and without bias. Objectivity is provided by setting and defining the standards ahead of time. To get the best results, ensure that everyone on the evaluation team was a part of setting the standard.
  • Easy to use: Perhaps, one of its most important pros is that it is easy to use.

Cons:

  • Managers’ perspectives can sometimes be subjective: For several reasons, including that the managers are also human, due to backgrounds, personal bias, and others, managers’ perspectives can be individual, resulting in a process with a level of bias.
  • It’s not perfect in identifying potential leaders: It’s not in all cases that high performance from an individual translates into success in a management position.
  • Sometimes a can be utterly great at what he does but very poor at handling and managing people or even resources. Yet, on the Matrix, he’ll appear at the top right based on performance and growth potential.

9-box grid model is a great tool for succession planning and development. The idea is to figure out how individual employees fit into the right position on the grid. And would adapt to positional changes in the near future within the organization.

Also, read the complete guide to employee net promoter score (eNPS) HERE

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