Conducting a 9-box talent review for growing companies

Management & Annual Reviews

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Performance reviews are essential for both the employee and the employer. By incorporating a 9-box talent review into your employee’s performance review, you get objective insights into individual employee performance and a big picture look at their role within your organization today and into the future.

Your company’s talent pool includes people of all abilities and potential. A 9-box talent review can help you identify the underachievers, over-achievers, and those with greater potential to make a larger impact on your team. It lets you determine who needs more support to excel in their job and who can provide that mentorship.

In this article, we’ll discuss the 9-box talent review process and how you can use it to ensure every employee is supported to reach their full potential while planning for your organization’s current and future success.

What is a 9-box talent review?

A 9-box talent review is an HR tool that measures and analyzes your employees’ current and potential future contributions to your organization, used to support individual and team growth. It can also be an effective tool to identify leaders in your organization to include in succession planning or as a tool for selecting new hires.

In a 9-box talent review, an employee’s current performance and future potential are categorized in a 3×3 grid. Based on where they’re placed in the grid, you have a clear, actionable way forward to help them achieve more and do better for your organization. Alternatively, it may identify which employees aren’t contributing or poised for growth and should be let go.

A 9-box review can be an effective tool during corporate or team restructuring. It identifies which team members are leaders and which need extra support to increase their performance and potential. This helps you balance your newly reorganized teams for maximum potential.

Can you use a 9-box grid for succession planning?

Yes, a 9-box grid is one element that can help you plan succession in your organization. It enables you to identify the consistently high performers who have the potential to grow into roles with your influence or status within your company.

Using a 9-box talent review is an excellent way to narrow down promotion options, but it should be just one of the tools you use. Take other employee performance and skills into consideration, such as success rates, customer feedback regarding that employee, and the employee’s own future goals and career aspirations.

The key elements of a 9-box talent review

The 9-box grid puts employees or prospects into categories based on various factors, which will be unique to each organization. These nine general categorizations include:

High Performing Staff

  • Stars (high potential, high-performance)
  • High Performers (medium potential, high-performance)
  • Workhorses (low potential, high-performance)

Moderate Performing Staff

  • High Potentials (high potential, moderate-performance)
  • Core Players (medium potential, moderate-performance)
  • Backups (low potential, moderate-performance)

Low Performing Staff

  • Inconsistent Performers (medium potential, low-performance)
  • Potential Gems (high potential, low-performance)
  • Bad Hires (low potential, low-performance)
Potential Gems
(high potential, low-performance)

Attributes: Lots of room for improvement.

Actions: Provide training to improve performance.
High Potentials
(high potential, moderate-performance)

Attributes: Does well most of the time, but could be better.

Actions: Give more challenging tasks to help them reach their potential.
(high potential, high-performance)

Attributes: Self motivated, performs well in many areas.

Actions: Set-up for succession, promotions, or being a team mentor.
Inconsistent Performers
(medium potential, low-performance)

Attributes: Inconsistent results with lots of growth room.

Actions: Provide coaching then test their ability for promotion.
Core Players
(medium potential, moderate-performance)

Attributes: Capable of meeting current job requirements.

Actions: Mentorship can boost performance and potential.
High Performers
(medium potential, high-performance)

Attributes: High achievers, but have reached maximum career potential in their current company.

Actions: Encourage performance improvement through responsibility optimization and delegation.
Bad Hires
(low potential, low-performance)

Attributes: Performs below expectations with low potential for improvement.

Actions: Let them go or reassign to a more suitable position.
(low potential, moderate-performance)

Attributes: Average performers, but need lots of help to improve.

Actions: Motivate with stretch goals and coaching to fill performance gaps.
(low potential, high-performance)

Attributes: Consistently high-achievers who have reached ceiling in their career.

Actions: Provide mentoring to boost creativity and lateral thinking.

9-box talent review template

Use this 9-box talent review template to distinguish employees with low, moderate, and high potential. Take advantage of each box to record your observations during the review process.

👉 Download the fillable PDF here

9 Box Talent Review template

Benefits of the 9-box model

Annual performance reviews that include a 9-box talent review can help assess employee performance and identify the valuable employees who deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.

Here are several benefits of the 9-box talent review model:

Performance tracking over time

When you perform a 9-box talent review over time, you can track the employee’s performance to see if they are meeting performance and growth expectations. Using objective data points in your review, you can watch low-performing employees turn into high performers. It helps managers see if their talent investment decisions are paying off.

Predictors of future leaders

The 9-box talent review is good at identifying your future leaders so you can invest in leadership development opportunities for these individuals. It helps you see which team members have:

  • Low potential: Employees already working to their highest ability and potential and have no room for growth in your organization (in their current capacity).
  • Moderate potential: Employees with room for growth but may need mentoring or training to contribute more to your organization.
  • High potential: Employees ready and willing to advance their career by climbing the corporate ladder to achieve managerial or professional capacity.

Facilitates conversation

Performance reviews, while usually based on data, should also provide an opportunity for dialog between the employee and their manager and between managers or senior members of your organization. It provides a basis to assess the performance of individuals poised for promotions and discuss succession plans.

Boosts team and employee performance

A 9-box talent review provides opportunities to create action plans to boost individual and team performance. It helps identify the low performers with high potential so you can create a performance management action plan to provide training or mentorship to boost their performance. This will help raise the performance of the team and your organization as a whole.

Why not use a 9-box talent review?

There are some reasons you may choose not to use a 9-box talent review as part of performance management processes. If you can’t gather objective data points on employee performance, you leave the process open to bias and scrutiny. Also, if you don’t plan to do regular 9-box talent reviews over time, you’re missing out on important data to measure employee growth targets to see if their growth and performance align with your succession plan.

While the 9-box talent reviews are great for categorizing your employees, they’re not a perfect tool. It comes with some limitations, including:

Bias and subjectivity

Many 9-box talent reviews need deep specificity in how you place employees in the grid, opening up opportunities for bias, favoritism, and subjectivity. It’s based mainly on the perspective of the person conducting the review.

To help eliminate bias, you could have several members of your organization conduct their own 9-box reviews and then combine the data from multiple perspectives to help create a more balanced, less biased result.  

Lacks objective data

Without a transparent process for categorizing your employees in the grid, your results may not be accurate. Focusing categorization on objective data can provide a more accurate representation of your employee performance and potential.

For more accurate results, use an objective dataset and clearly defined rules for categorization.

“Labels” employees

Some view these performance reviews as “labeling,” which sets limits on employees’ current and future success. Like a bad nickname given to you in high school, these labels can stay with employees for years, impact how people treat each other, and may unconsciously limit their future success and growth.

To avoid “labeling,” consider doing a 16-box review (rather than nine), so the options are better representative of actual performance, not generalizations which lead to over-labeling.

Could be construed as office politics

Some 9-box talent reviews are based on perception and opinion. Thus, managers can be accused of categorizing employees based on their feelings rather than objective data. Even if you include objective data, office politics and favoritism can unconsciously come into play.

To avoid office politics accusations, base as much of your 9-box grid data on hard, quantifiable data rather than opinions.

May cause employee stress

When the results of a 9-box talent review are transparent, it can lead to stress. Talent review meetings can also stress the employee and the manager, especially if bias or subjectivity are questioned, or there’s a discrepancy between the manager’s view and the employee’s performance review.

To avoid stress in talent review meetings, focus on objective data and include a discussion of employee successes. Make it a collaborative session where the employee can provide their self-review and brainstorm possible remedies and growth-mindset goals.

👉 Read more: How to tell an employee they need to improve

Is the 9 box talent review still relevant?

Even with all the potential limitations of the 9-box talent review process, it’s still relevant as a tool to evaluate your team’s current and future performance. It’s just one of many tools to use, but it can be a strong start as it provides helpful data-based insights that you can use in your talent management and nurturing your team members.

👉 Get our expert tips to conducting the most effective performance review for your customer service team

How to complete a 9-box assessment

To avoid any potential pitfalls of using this 9-box grid for performance reviews, here are the three steps to completing a 9-box assessment for your customer support teams:

Step 1: Assess employee’s performance

Compare employees’ performance against goals, targets, or role expectations. Whenever possible, use objective datasets to measure employee performance, such as:

  • Close rates
  • Helpdesk tickets completed
  • Customer feedback survey data

Adapt your 9-grid talent reviews to use data that pertains to their role. For example, don’t include help desk data analytics if the employee doesn’t work with support tickets.

Step 2: Assess growth potential

Identify potential leaders by assessing if the employee’s current performance can be boosted. When evaluating an employee’s potential, look at these six markers of high-performers:

  1. Ability: Does the employee have the skills and success record to perform their job requirements consistently?
  2. Aspiration: Is the employee happy where they are or do they dream of achieving more through professional growth and development?
  3. Relationships: Are they active social members of your team? Those with social influence in your team are more likely to have growth potential and succeed in these more senior roles.
  4. Behavior: Does the employee have high emotional intelligence? Those who can control their behaviors and attitudes are more likely to perform better in new roles and situations when promoted.
  5. Adaptability: Do they adapt well to change? Those who take the initiative when experiencing change are more likely to advance in their career than those who always rely on others for help when faced with an obstacle.
  6. Leadership: Does the individual show leadership potential by being adept at strategic thinking and teamwork?

If an individual lacks a particular marker, it doesn’t mean they have lower growth and leadership potential. It may mean something is preventing them from achieving that success (such as an internal company process, their skill level, or their mindset). Discuss these with the employee to see how these blocks can be removed.

Step 3: Categorize employees in the 9-box grid

Look at how you ranked their performance and potential and determine where they sit in the 9-box grid. From this, you can conduct performance reviews and discuss the results with employees to get their perspectives and work together to achieve better results.

Also, take steps to ensure reviews are not biased. Have them performed by a manager or supervisor with intimate knowledge of the team members’ day-to-day expectations and actual performance.

Alternate approach: 16-box talent review

Some organizations prefer more specificity in their performance reviews through a 16-grid performance review rather than nine. In this grid, there are four levels of performance and four levels of potential:

How to evaluate employee development and potential

An individual’s performance and potential requires a mix of skills (hard and soft) and mindset. An individual with a growth mindset without the skills can be mentored to achieve higher performance and potential. However, an employee without the skills or a growth mindset can’t easily (or at all) see any future growth and thus have a low potential.

It’s important to note that even someone who lacks the skill and potential could still contribute to your organization to their satisfaction. It’s possible that this employee is not in the right role or is not feeling challenged enough in their current position, affecting their attitude and dedication to the job. Some employees may also be content where they are, and don’t want additional responsibility or promotions. Be sure to identify these employees so you can support them in maintaining job satisfaction where they excel most.

How to segment metrics by customer issue

For customer service and support teams, every key performance indicator result has a reason behind it. Often, the cause can be removed to boost performance and potential. One way to understand the “why” behind your employee performance data is to segment metrics by customer issue.

By segmenting your employee performance metrics by a variable like customer issue, you may uncover trends that can be used to identify development opportunities. For example, you may see that your employees’ overall scores are lower than their peers’ customer satisfaction scores. However, on deeper segmentation of their scores, you may notice that their scores are lower for a specific customer issue but much higher for another.

Based on this information, you can work with your employee to see if they are better suited to moving to a department where their areas of expertise are more common or if they can be trained in the areas of customer issue resolution in the areas they’re lacking.

An AI-based customer feedback analysis platform like Idiomaticmarketing intelligence platform like Idiomatic can categorize and analyze your customer feedback data from multiple channels into specific customer issues housed in one place. This allows you to further understand the reason behind low employee performance scores. Knowing what influences success for each employee helps you take appropriate steps to improve it where possible.

For example, with Idiomatic, you can categorize agent responses to understand whether they’re following a specified playbook when resolving issues or toeing outside the line of what’s deemed acceptable. Or, you can monitor CSAT per issue so you know which types of issues tend to result in negative CSAT regardless of the agent – this would mean there’s something specific about the issue and agents just don’t have a good solution.

Tips for implementing a 9-box talent review in your organization

Implementing a 9-box talent review process in your organization requires buy-in from all levels, from entry-level employees to managers and supervisors to senior management. It needs both the organization and the people in it to have a growth mindset and be dedicated to using customer feedback and other metrics to measure the performance and predict the potential of individual team members.

Idiomatic excels at taking large data sources and analyzing them to uncover actionable insights that human analysis can miss or misinterpret. You can integrate all your data sources, including customer feedback regarding and segment the data using machine learning algorithms to get more detailed insights into your performance.

Learn more about how Idiomatic can help you segment your customer feedback data to provide actionable intelligence on employee performance and growth potential in your organization.

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