Develop Leaders Using the 9 Box Performance Matrix

••• By: Ditto/Getty Images

Published 12/13/2015

This is the fourth article in a series covering use of the nine-box performance and potential matrix for succession planning and leadership development.

Others in the series include:

When using the performance and potential matrix (nine-box) to assess leaders, some organizations will assess each employee, then discuss development at a follow-up meeting, or worst case, not at all.

Discussing specific development strategies for each employee as a part of the assessment discussion is an emerging best practice. This way, information concerning strengths and weaknesses is fresh in everyone’s minds, and it’s a natural transition to move to strategies to move each employee to the next readiness level.

While there may not be time to discuss every employee on the nine-box grid, high potential employee development should be discussed. These are the employees that will most likely end up on succession planning lists, so it makes sense to involve the entire leadership team in brainstorming development strategies for these employees.

Here are general development guidelines for each of the nine boxes. These are just general guidelines, and judgment needs to be applied depending on context and the individual leader’s diverse needs.

I would also caution against the temptation to come up with cute labels for each of the nine boxes (i.e., “rising stars,” or “steady performers”), or a list of descriptive characteristics for each of the nine boxes. These labels and/or descriptors will typically just cause confusion and add little value to the discussion.

1A (high potential, high performance): See What is a “High Potential”?

  • Stretch assignments, things they don’t already know how to do, assignments that take them beyond their current role; high profile, where stakes are high
  • Give them a “start-up” assignment, something no one has done, a new product, process, territory, etc.
  • Give them a “fix-it” assignment, a chance to step in and solve a problem or repair someone else’s mess
  • Job change, rotations, job swaps; an opportunity to experience a brand new role, short or long term
  • Help them build cross-functional relationships with other A-players
  • Find them a mentor – at least one level up. Provide an internal or external coach and/or access to exclusive training opportunities
  • Access to meetings, committees, etc. one level up; exposure to senior managers, VPs; advisory Councils, Board of Directors
  • Watch out for signs of burnout
  • Watch for signs of retention risks; know how to “save” a hi-po (high potential)
  • Next level up exposure, responsibilities, shadowing

2A (high performance, moderate potential):

  • Development activities similar to 1A
  • Difference is often degree of “readiness” for larger roles. Development is preparation for longer term opportunities
  • Continue to assess for potential

3A (high performance, limited potential):

  • Ask what motivates them and how they want to develop
  • Provide recognition, praise, and rewards
  • Provide opportunities to develop in current role, to grow deeper and broader capabilities and knowledge
  • Provide honest feedback about their opportunities for advancement if asked
  • Watch for signs of retention risks; know how to “save” a “hi-pro” (high professional)
  • Ask them to mentor, teach, and coach others
  • Allow them to share what they know, presentations at company meetings, external conferences, to be “the highly valued expert”

    1B (good/average performance, high potential):

    • Development activities similar to 1A
    • Difference is current performance level
    • Focus more on competency gaps that will move them from B to A performance; good to great performance
    • Provide candid feedback and express your confidence

    2B: (good/average performance, moderate potential):

    • May not be eager or able to advance; don’t push them, allow them to stay where they are
    • Continuously check-in regarding willingness to advance, relocate
    • Provide occasional opportunities to “test” them
    • Provide stretch assignments
    • Provide coaching and training
    • Help them move from “good to great”
    • Tell them they are valued
    • Listen to their ideas
    • Praise their accomplishments
    • Trust them

    3B (good/average performance, limited potential):

    • Combination of performance management, training, and coaching to help them move from okay to good
    • Provide honest feedback about their opportunities for advancement if asked

    1C (poor performance, high potential):

    • Find out the root cause of poor performance and together develop an action plan to improve
    • Consider moving the high potential to a different role (may have been a poor fit)
      Provide additional support, resources
    • Look for ways to “attach” to 1As, 1Bs, or 2As
    • After a reasonable period of time, if performance does not improve, then re-examine your potential assessment

    2C (often used for leaders too new to rate):

    • Focus is on onboarding, orientation, relationship building
    • Provide a peer mentor
    • Provide formal new leader training

    3C (poor performance, limited potential):

    • Use a performance management approach, not a developmental approach
      Improvement action plan vs. an IDP
    • Clarify expectations
    • Identify and remove blockers, poor performers that are standing in the way of high potentials
    • Provide clearly defined goals
    • Be explicit about the ways in which they must improve
    • Provide remedial coaching and feedback
    • After trying all of the above, after a reasonable amount of time, move the person out of the role. Dismiss or move to individual contributor role