Understanding 9-Box Reporting for Performance Management - Netchex

Employee reviews need to accurately judge an employee’s recent performance as well as future potential. An easy framework for combining these two critical metrics and sorting employees into categories is a simple 9-box grid. Some judgment calls involve a lot of potential for bias and subjectivity, but clearly defined metrics can make assessments more fair. 

Despite its simplicity, the 9-box chart includes a wide range of possibilities. In the real world of HR assessments, two simple metrics can provide a useful picture about the potential and performance of employees.

Discover more about 9-Box Performance Management reporting, its advantages, and how to integrate into your employee review process.

Defining the 9-box grid and its goals

9-box reporting uses two categories to sort employees. In terms of performance, is this individual worker performing at a high, average, or unsatisfactory level? How about the potential for the future? 

A talented new hire may simply need time to learn the ropes. Future potential is rated high, average, or low. A worker with low potential for career growth may still be highly productive in their current role.

The goal of the 9-box grid is avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to management. Low “potential” isn’t necessarily a “bad” rating. Highly skilled technicians and specialists don’t necessarily have the personality or ambition to pursue management roles, and that’s okay. Instead of coaching everyone toward the most desirable corner of the 9-box grid, managers can recognize which workers want and need different types of incentives.

Advantages of the 9-box grid

Reporting spreadsheets get pretty complicated, but learning to use a 9-box grid is as easy as playing tic-tac-toe. Unlike that simple game, the HR assessment version just involves placing workers in their appropriate category. 

  • Easy to use

Each worker should be easy to assign to a particular category. If they’re on the fence between “low” and “average” performance, then it’s not catastrophic for the company if they get placed in the “wrong” category. Workers on the borderline between low and average can benefit from either placement. And remember, this doesn’t have to be permanent placement. 

Instead of the binary metric of a pass-fail system, the 9-boxes allow for a wide middle ground of average performance and/or moderate potential. Adding more intermediate options could introduce more subjective judgment. As long as you aren’t automatically firing everyone with a low-low rating, most employees can be reliably categorized with at least 3 options.

  • Help identify valuable talent

The top right employees are probably already favorites with management. High performers with high potential are your “star” employees who may have arrived with extra credentials or charisma. On the off chance that you haven’t already identified those talented workers, then a 9-box grid may help you think differently about assessments.

The grid allows you to respond appropriately to underperformers who have demonstrated high potential or talent. A one-dimensional assessment might lump together everyone who fails to meet productivity goals, but a 9-box grid can highlight workers with untapped potential. Remote workers might need accommodations as simple as windowed work to improve performance

  • Holistic approach to talent appraisal

9-box reporting can increase transparency when used appropriately. You probably shouldn’t tell loyal employees that they’ve been rated as “low potential.” The most reliable workers at your company may be rated as “low” potential because they don’t seem like good candidates for promotion or further career shifts. The 9-box grid separates performance and potential in assessments, highlighting how high-performing workers aren’t automatically the best candidates for promotions. 

If the 9-box grid isn’t directly shared with workers, then managers can still make their assessments and justifications accessible to other managers and executives. The potential talent pool at a company is one of its greatest resources, and it’s far too easy for jealous managers to suppress the visibility of high performers. The 9-box grid makes it easier for outsiders to identify underdeveloped talent, and it invites shared ownership across the company. Other managers and executives may see that talent is going unexploited in another department. 

  • Highlight development opportunities

Employee assessments should help everyone succeed together. It’s not just about getting workers to hit their personal productivity targets. When you use a 9-box grid approach, you can talk to individual workers about their lack of motivation or other personal barriers to success.

Low performers with high potential might be more motivated when they realize you have career development opportunities. Workers are developed based on personal potential, but it’s easy to get distracted when productivity is considered in isolation.

Creating a 9-box grid

It sounds amazing, but how do you actually develop a 9-box grid? Employee reviews and promotion decisions involve significantly higher stakes than others. Make sure your grid reflects the culture and priorities of your company. Use clear metrics and standards to reduce the influence of personal bias.

9-Box Grid - Netchex
  • Establish a plan and metrics

Metrics like “potential” are notoriously difficult to assess. Nevertheless, credentials like previous work experience, education, and leadership ability are always considered in employee evaluations. Which measurable or objective credentials make a difference in your workers? Can you assess and compare leadership skills between different employees?

Use an LMS for Meaningful Learning to develop employees and evaluate progress. Both potential and performance need objective, quantifiable metrics for reporting.

  • Assess performance

Performance is usually more easily defined than potential, but you still need objective metrics. If you don’t have specific output or QA numbers, then you can use other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Star talent might be the favorites of management, with high performance and untapped potential. Workhorses might include workers who wouldn’t be great candidates for promotions, and yet they are more productive than their peers.

For a 9-box grid, you need to be able to judge performance separately from potential, graphing the intersection of the two variables.

  • Assess potential

An unfortunate reality of Human Resources is that there’s not always a 1:1 correlation between potential and performance. Employees with a lot of experience or education may struggle to adapt to your company’s way of doing business.

Other workers may demonstrate exceptional skill and talent despite an apparent lack of motivation in daily work routines. Upskilling is key to employee retention, but growing potential isn’t a substitute for productivity. 

  • Bring it all together

When you graph potential and performance together, it may be helpful to nickname the different categories of workers.

  • High potential, high performance workers may be your star employees. 
  • Low performance, low potential workers may be “bad hires” who need ultimatums for improvement.
  • Low potential workers with high performance may already be working at their personal best, and they still deserve rewards for sticking with your company. 

Discover how Netchex can help you better manage employee performance with 9-box reporting:

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