Practical analysis for investment professionals
08 February 2016

Where Do You Fit on Your Organization’s Nine-Box Grid?

Where Do You Fit on Your Organization's Nine-Box Grid?

Have you ever heard of the nine-box grid framework for assessing talent in an organization?

Talent management professionals — those who are responsible for succession planning and deciding how to best train and deploy a firm’s human capital — often use the framework to determine whether and how to develop particular employees.

On one axis of the grid, they assess an employee’s growth potential. Across the other axis, they calculate an employee’s performance in her current role. Each axis is divided into three potential scores: variations of low, average, and high. By adding up all the possible outcomes, you get the “nine” in “nine-box grid.”

You can probably see that low performers with low potential are good candidates for being managed out of the company. And that high performers with high potential are likely designated “top talent,” “HiPos,” and “rock stars,” and are prime candidates for promotion, development, rewards, and recognition.

Perhaps you’re a current rock star in your organization? Hopefully you’re not in the other corner. Probably, though, you’re in one of the other seven boxes. Taking time to realistically evaluate where your employer sees you on this grid as well as where you want to be on it both requires and results in greater self and environmental awareness, each of which can help shape your short- to mid-range career goals.

Here are the remaining seven boxes in the grid and the development investment talent managers might expect to make in the individuals who correspond to them:

  • Low Potential, Average Performance: A solid, effective performer who should be encouraged to specialize; invest in their engagement for retention but not development for growth.
  • Low Potential, High Performance: A specialist or expert who can be counted on and may be leveraged in developing or training others; invest in engagement for retention and development for deeper expertise and keeping current with skills.
  • Average Potential, Low Performance: Problematic situation often addressed by re-evaluating job fit and performance; invest in performance improvement via coaching or technical training.
  • Average Potential, Average Performance: A core employee; invest in motivating, engaging, and rewarding for successes.
  • Average Potential, High Performance: A valued asset; invest in engagement for retention and development with stretch assignments and challenges.
  • High Potential, Low Performance: Possibly in the wrong role or a symptom of team or manager dysfunction; invest in understanding what is causing the poor performance.
  • High Potential, Average Performance: A future leader; invest in engagement for retention and heavily in development, with stretch assignments, coaching, and skills training.

There’s a cliché that at least four out of five people think they are above average drivers. Of course they’re likely wrong because 49% are necessarily below average. So when you ask yourself whereyou fall on this nine-box grid, do you overestimate your position in a similar fashion?

Strictly speaking, if this tool is used in a talent management platform at a firm, the results are typically data driven from surveys and performance reviews as opposed to meetings during which people sit around in a circle and talk about where each employee fits. In other words, the determinations are a little bit removed from what you imagine the people with whom you interact think of you. Given that, how well do you think you could estimate where you would fall if your employer used this tool?

An equally important question: Where do you want to fall on this grid in your current role and with your current employer? It is important to understand how you fit into the talent management scheme at your organization. Not because you need to chase the “HiPo” label, but rather because it’s vital that you take responsibility for aligning the perception your organization has of you with your own career goals. This is a point Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris communicates superbly in her presentations. Similarly, Career Success: Navigating the New Work Environment makes a similar argument about how critical it is to define success for yourself without being chained to conventional views of success. If you are content for the moment developing a deep expertise in your role without being concerned with flashing management potential, own that.

The nine-box tool — and taking a minute to think about how you fit on your organization’s grid — can add another bit of context to better understand your career goals.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

About the Author(s)
Julia VanDeren

Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates. Previously, she served CFA Institute as career services representative, managing the CFA Institute JobLine (now Career Center) and Career Centre (now Career Tools) resources. VanDeren holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MPA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

4 thoughts on “Where Do You Fit on Your Organization’s Nine-Box Grid?”

  1. Michael Muramuzi says:

    This is a well researched presentation but not commonly applied.

  2. Leo says:

    Some but potentially important detail.

    49% are necessarily below average. This isn’t true.

    49% are necessarily below the mean. This is true.

    1. Leo says:


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