The Myth and Facts of a 9 Box

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 6:59PM

Even though talent management is one of the hottest buzz terms in the HR industry right now, the practice of succession planning is really new to many HR professionals. With succession planning so often kept only in the executive suite and the top management of an organization, the average HR person doesn't get to practice the art of succession planning.

Now the trend is moving toward succession planning or replacement planning for the entire organization. This means we need to become familiar with the terms and tools available. One of the more common questions I get asked is "What is a 9-Box that I keep hearing about?" A 9-Box is a grid with which you plot employees based on their performance ranking and their potential for advancement (see graphic). It is a little like the magic quadrant that analysts use to illustrate different rankings for comparison.


Not every quality employee is a High Potential, High Performer employee. Yes, quality employees should be performing high. But they may not have the potential for promotion up through management. Lacking the potential to move up to management or to be an executive is not a requirement for a stellar employee with huge value to the organization. Specialists and experts in their field may not desire to manage people, but yield great results in their position. Moving 'up' may require re-location and that might not be in the family or life plan of an employee. Do not judge less than high potential people as anything other than not interested or ready for a move up the corporate org chart.

The traditional 9-Box should be used to focus the process of assigning successors because the individuals in the upper right quadrant have been identified as people with the potential of moving up. If your organization has gone through a formal process of identifying high potentials you may wish to begin the initiative or address the 9-Box process with management as they assess each team for successors. We are seeing some very creative uses for the 9-Box that are different than the traditional and not using the same data on the axis. If you want to learn more, let me know.

For additional resources on Succession Planning, view our list of featured Succession Planning Resources.