Transform the 9-Box Talent Assessment

Take the 9-box from a yearly tick-box exercise to a dynamic assessment that reveals hidden talent and boosts performance from every employee.


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Your Challenge

  • When used inappropriately, the 9-box can become a tick-box exercise that hinders employee development.
  • The 9-box loses its efficacy when the assessments used to fill out the grid are inaccurate, when biases are not corrected, when managers use different standards for assessment, and when the 9-box is not translated into development opportunities that connect to organizational goals.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

  • The success of the 9-box depends crucially on what comes before and after: assess employees accurately before plotting the grid, and create development plans for every employee afterward to bring out their best contribution to your organization.
  • Move toward open, honest, and collaborative talent assessment. Invite employees to work together with managers and to assess themselves, and discuss potential and growth opportunities so that employees feel empowered to act, rather than apprehensive about being assessed.

Impact and Result

  • Transform the 9-box into a strategic tool by improving the quality of assessments that go into plotting employees on the grid, by making group calibration a regular priority, and by creating development plans that bring out the best in every employee.


  • Anonymous contributor, Senior Specialist, Talent Management, Health Care
  • Nicky Dries, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, Leuven University
  • Jenna Filipkowski, Director of Research, HCI
  • Anita Gouveia, Learning and Development Manager, Panalpina
  • Jackie Guisti, Manager of Talent Planning and Development, Learning Care Group
  • Charles Handler, Talent Assessment Thought Leader, Founder, RocketHire
  • JR Keller, Assistant Professor of Human Resource Studies, Cornell University
  • Chris King, Talent Management Advisor, Devon Canada Corp
  • Kim Lazerus, VP of Talent Management, Maverik Inc.
  • Suzanne Niles, SVP of HR, Hudson’s Bay Company
  • Debra Ogston, CHRO, Watts Water Technologies
  • Mitch Romanchook, People Development Manager, City of Richmond
  • Paul Sparrow, Professor of Management, Lancaster University

Get the Complete Storyboard

See how all the steps you need to take come together, with tools and advice to help with each task on your list.

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Get to Action

  1. Identify talent needs and priorities

    Identify emerging organizational talent needs and outline an organizational talent philosophy.

  2. Customize and enhance the 9-box

    Customize the 9-box grid and choose additional assessment tools such as self-assessments.

  3. Assess talent, calibrate, and continue talent conversations

    Communicate changes in the process to managers and train them to assess employees while conducting the talent calibration meeting.

  4. Develop talent using assessment results

    Determine effective development activities for every talent level and facilitate employee–manager discussion dialogues to create individual development plans.

  5. Integrate and measure assessment

    Integrate chosen talent assessment into existing HR practices and select the appropriate metrics to track to measure success.

Guided Implementation icon Guided Implementation

This guided implementation is a fourteen call advisory process.

    Guided Implementation #1 - Identify talent needs and priorities

  • Call #1: Review your organization’s talent philosophy and discuss broader HR implications.

  • Call #2: Discuss organizational talent risks and needs

  • Call #3: Examine strategic roles and understand what talent is required to address gaps.

  • Guided Implementation #2 - Customize and enhance the 9-box

  • Call #1: Review the criteria of potential and define potential for your organization. Select alternate grid criteria if appropriate and/or assign grid labels.

  • Call #2: Determine and implement effective talent assessment enhancement activities.

  • Guided Implementation #3 - Assess talent, calibrate, and continue talent conversations

  • Call #1: Identify which group to assess and review feedback from assessment pilot project.

  • Call #2: Prepare to communicate and train managers on new talent assessment process.

  • Call #3: Review process and results from talent calibration meeting.

  • Guided Implementation #4 - Develop talent using assessment results

  • Call #1: Brainstorm and develop suitable ways to integrate chosen talent assessment into existing HR processes.

  • Call #2: Discuss appropriate change management measures to ensure a smooth integration.

  • Call #3: Review selected success metrics.

  • Guided Implementation #5 - Integrate and measure assessment

  • Call #1: Brainstorm and develop suitable ways to integrate chosen talent assessment into existing HR processes.

  • Call #2: Discuss appropriate change management measures to ensure a smooth integration.

  • Call #3: Review selected success metrics.

Onsite Workshop

Module 1: Identify Talent Needs and Customize Your Talent Grid

The Purpose

  • Outline talent needs, strategic roles and the organizational talent philosophy.
  • Create a customized 9-box talent assessment anchored in organizational goals.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Strategic 9-box talent grid outlined
  • Project roles and methodology defined

Activities: Outputs:
1.1 Identify strategic functional areas
  • Talent Management Outline Template
1.2 Assess talent and identify strategic roles.
  • Identified strategic talent roles
1.3 Craft your organizational philosophy.
  • Refined organizational talent philosophy
1.4 Evaluate alternative criteria.
  • 9-Box Talent Grid Assessment Tool
1.5 Brainstorm measurement and assessment methods.
  • Selected potential and performance measurement and assessment methods
1.6 Finalize talent grid labels and definitions.
  • 9-box talent grid is tailored to organizational requirements

Module 2: Pilot and Prepare Your Customized Grid

The Purpose

  • Pilot the 9-box talent grid.
  • Train managers on use of the 9-box talent grid.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Manager buy-in of new talent assessment process and enactment plan developed

Activities: Outputs:
2.1 Define who the talent grid will be used to assess.
  • Determined employee assessment guidelines
2.2 Pilot the customized grid.
  • 9-box talent grid is piloted and assessed
2.3 Develop a communications strategy.
  • Talent assessment communications strategy is prepared
2.4 Customize your manager training deck.
  • 9-Box Manager Training Deck
2.5 Finalize the talent review and calibration meeting process.
  • Defined talent review meeting process

Module 3: Outline Talent Development Programs and Integrate Assessment

The Purpose

  • Launch the transformed 9-box talent assessment.
  • Assess the 9-box talent assessment performance.
  • Measure its success and areas for improvement.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Integration of a dynamic talent assessment process.
  • 9-box talent assessment reviewed and improvements made.

Activities: Outputs:
3.1 Incorporate talent grid results into your development and talent planning process.
  • Talent development and review process are tied to talent grid results
3.2 Brainstorm talent management integration.
  • Integrated talent management with key practice categories
3.3 Measure talent management success.
  • Talent management metrics are aligned with organizational goals
3.4 Plan next steps.
  • Confirmed project next steps

Workshop Icon Book Your Workshop

Onsite Workshops offer an easy way to accelerate your project. If you are unable to do the project yourself, and a Guided Implementation isn’t enough, we offer low-cost onsite delivery of our Project Workshops. We take you through every phase of your project and ensure that you have a road map in place to complete your project successfully.

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  • A1130f962ab087aa230054963f52008c comment
    Larry McMullen | 10-30-2014

    I just ran through your deck on the nine box assessment. Excellent job and thank you for the work you did. We have been using the nine box for years now and this added to our ability to leverage this tool. I do have one fundamental problem with part of it and it is centered on slide 40 and the labels that are assigned to each of the rows. How can we call a high performer- low potential an "underachiever" ? How can a low performer- medium potential be considers part of the organization's core? I know if I presented this slide to my management team, I would get the same reaction I have. Please help me if you can understand the thought process here. Thanks for listening to my rant. Larrry.

    • Missing comment
      McLean & Company | 11-03-2014

      Thanks for your comment, Larry! I think there may be a bit of confusion around which boxes in the 9-Box Talent Grid belong under which subgroups.
      The subgroups described on the left-hand side of the slide are actually color-coded to represent which boxes lie within them on the right-hand side. The alignment of the subgroups on the left with the rows on the right does not represent the subgroups that the boxes are a part of.
      That being said, the dark grey boxes are the Top Talent group, and include the High Performance/High Potential, Medium Performance/High Potential, and High Performance/Medium Potential.
      The power blue boxes are the Core Talent, and include the Medium Performance/Medium Potential, Medium Performance/Low Potential, and the High Performance/Low Potential group that you mentioned. We consider the High Performance/Low Potential employee as a part of this group because while their performance is exceptional, their low potential often results from a lack of desire to move around or progress throughout the organization.
      The dark blue boxes represent the Underachiever group, and these are the Low Performance/High Potential, Low Performance/High Potential, and Low Performance/Medium Potential that you also mentioned in your post.
      I hope this helps! And remember, if any of the labels we use don't make sense for your organization, be sure to customize accordingly.

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