A Guide to Actionable Evaluation with 9 Box Performance Review


Are you struggling to give clear and actionable feedback? Or perhaps you feel your potential is being overlooked and your team’s development needs aren’t being addressed. That’s where the 9-box performance review comes in. This blog delves into the 9 box performance review, step by step.

We’ll explore how to use it to conduct an effective performance review process, identify talent gaps, and create a continuous learning and growth culture within your organization.


What is a 9 Box Performance Review?

A 9-box performance review is a tool for assessing employees by plotting them on a grid. This grid considers two factors: current performance and future potential.

By visually representing these aspects, managers can make informed decisions about each employee’s development, retention, and future roles.

What Do All 9 Boxes of the Grid Represent?

The 9-box grid is a fantastic talent management tool that helps you understand what each box represents and is key to using it effectively. Let’s break down the following boxes:

Box #1 High Potential, High Performance

These employees consistently deliver excellent results (think exceeding goals resolving complex problems) and demonstrate strong leadership qualities. They’re quick learners, have a strategic mindset, and inspire those around them.

Box #2 High Potential, Moderate Performance

These employees have the potential for greatness, but their performance might be inconsistent or not quite meeting expectations. They’re eager learners, adaptable, and possess strong leadership qualities.

The key here is to help them develop their skills and experience.

Box #3 High Performance, Moderate Potential

These reliable employees consistently deliver solid results, meeting but not exceeding expectations. They’re dependable, possess strong technical skills, and contribute significantly to the team.

While their growth potential might be moderate, they’re valuable assets.

Box #4 Low Potential, High Performance

These employees deliver exceptional results (think consistently exceeding quotas and resolving critical issues) but might not have the aptitude or desire for significant growth. They might excel in their current role but struggle with additional responsibilities.

Box #5 Moderate Potential, Moderate Performance

These employees sometimes meet expectations, but there’s room for improvement. They might lack specific skills or experience but are willing to learn.

Box #6 High Potential, Low Performance

This category includes employees with great potential but whose current performance falls short. Reasons could include a lack of clear direction, inadequate training, or personal challenges.

The key is to identify the root cause and unlock their potential.

Box#7 Moderate Performance, Low Potential

These employees consistently deliver satisfactorily, but their growth potential might be limited. They might lack the desire for significant advancement or struggle to grasp new concepts.

They’re valuable for dependability, but development efforts might be best directed elsewhere.

Box #8 Low Potential, Moderate Performance

These employees might struggle to meet expectations consistently, but their performance isn’t necessarily vast. There could be a mismatch between their skills and the role’s requirements.

Consider exploring redeployment opportunities or providing additional support.

Box #9 Low Potential, Low Performance

These employees consistently underperform. There could be underlying reasons like lack of motivation, skill gaps, or a poor work ethic.

A clear performance improvement plan is crucial to address these issues.

What Are the Key Components of 9 Box Performance Review?

The 9-box performance review hinges on two key components: potential and performance. Let’s break down each one to understand how they work together:

1. Potential: This component assesses an employee’s ability to grow and take on bigger challenges in the future. Here’s how we typically break it down:

  • High Potential: These employees are quick learners, adaptable, and demonstrate strong leadership qualities.
  • Moderate Potential: These employees are reliable and willing to learn, but their growth trajectory might be slower.
  • Low Potential: These employees might struggle with new concepts or lack the desire for significant advancement.

2. Performance: This key component focuses on how effectively the employee fulfills their current role. Here’s a breakdown of common categories:

  • High Performance: These employees consistently meet or exceed expectations.
  • Moderate Performance: These employees sometimes meet expectations, but there’s room for improvement.
  • Low Performance: These employees consistently underperform.

What Are the Ideal Steps to Use the 9 Box Review Framework?

The 9-box framework is a fantastic tool, and using it effectively involves a more nuanced approach than just measuring productivity and capability. Here’s a breakdown of the steps that prepare a complete picture:

Step 1: Measure Employee Productivity

This step involves gathering data, such as performance reviews, project evaluations, and customer feedback. Consider the objectives and goals set for the employee, did they meet expectations?

Look beyond the results and evaluate their behavior and skills, were they a team player with strong communication abilities? Remember to stay objective, avoid bias, and document everything with specific examples.

This comprehensive assessment will ensure accurate placement within the 9-box grid and pave the way for constructive feedback conversations.

Step 2: Review Employee Capability

Look for signs of learning agility, can the employee adapt and learn quickly? Do they actively seek out learning opportunities?

Evaluate leadership qualities, do employees inspire others, take initiative, and solve problems creatively? Consider strategic thinking, can they see the big picture and contribute to the organization’s goals?

Finally, assess their growth aspirations, talk to them about career goals, and identify any development needs. This will help you create targeted plans to unlock their potential.

Remember, assessing potential goes beyond past performance. It’s about uncovering their capacity and willingness to learn and grow.

By looking for these qualities and having open conversations, you’ll gain valuable insights to accurately place them on the potential side of the 9-box grid.

Step 3: Form a 3×3 Grid by Integrating Performance and Potential

Imagine a tic-tac-toe board with “High Potential” to “Low Potential” on one side and “High Performance” to “Low Performance” on the other. This creates nine boxes representing different combinations.

Now, place each employee in the box that reflects their current performance and potential. A consistent high performer with strong leadership qualities lands in the top left box (the “star”).

If an employee’s placement feels uncertain, it might indicate a need for further exploration or targeted development to help them reach a higher level.

What Are the Advantages of a 9 Box Performance Review?

9-box performance review penetrates objective evaluations, facilitates informed decision-making, and promotes a strategic approach to developing your workforce. Here are a few noted benefits:

  • Supports Clear Communication: The grid’s visual layout makes it easy for managers and employees to understand performance expectations and development needs. It also provides a common language for discussing an employee’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Prioritize Targeted Development: By pinpointing where employees fall within the grid, you can tailor development plans to their specific needs. High performers might benefit from leadership training, while those with lower potential might need skill-building programs.
  • Adopts Succession Planning: The 9-box readily identifies high-potential employees who could be groomed for future leadership roles. This allows you to proactively develop your talent pipeline and ensure a smooth transition when positions open up.
  • Provides Informed Decision-Making: The framework helps with tough decisions about promotions, redeployment, or potential performance improvement plans. A data-driven approach based on performance and potential allows for more objective decision-making.
  • Enhanced Talent Management: The 9-box penetrates a strategic approach to talent management. You can identify areas where you might have skill gaps or a surplus of talent in certain areas.

What Are the Cons of a 9-Box Performance Review?

By being aware of these potential drawbacks and using the 9-box responsibly, you can minimize its limitations and maximize its benefits for your performance management process. Here are some potential downsides to consider:

  • Subjectivity May Cause a Problem: Assessing performance and potential can be subjective, especially if clear criteria aren’t established beforehand. This could lead to bias or disagreements between managers.
  • Oversimplification Might Complicate Things: The 9 box performance review can be rigid. Employees are complex individuals, and their potential or performance might not always fit neatly into a single box.
  • Limited Focus on Development: While the 9-box helps identify development needs, there needs to be a roadmap for achieving those goals. Additionally, performance management tool and strategies are needed to create effective development plans.
  • May Lead to Employee Demoralization: Being labeled as “low potential” can be discouraging for employees. The focus should be on development, not negativity.
  • Limited Employee Growth: Knowing they’ll be placed in a box. It might incentivize some employees to hold back on their performance to avoid exceeding expectations and potentially taking on more responsibility.

How to Use 9 Box Performance for Talent Review?

The grid will help you visualize your workforce’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to make informed decisions about development, talent allocation, and succession planning. Following these ideal pointers, you can use the 9-box as a springboard for productive and focused talent review conversations:

1: Establish Specific Targets

Before you dive in, set clear goals for your talent review. Are you focusing on identifying high potentials, informing promotion decisions, or addressing skill gaps?

Knowing your objectives will help you tailor the process and use the 9-box grid most effectively.

2: Acquire the Relevant Information

Don’t base your assessments on gut feelings. Gather concrete data, such as performance review comments, project evaluations, customer feedback, and key performance indicators (KPIs).

This will provide a solid foundation for placing employees within the grid.

3: Identify Measures for Comparing

How will you differentiate between high, moderate, and low performance? Similarly, what defines high, moderate, and low potential for your organization?

Establishing clear criteria for each level removes subjectivity and ensures everyone’s on the same page.
Place employees on the grid with an objective approach

Use the data you gathered and the predetermined metrics to assess each person’s performance and potential objectively. Remember, focus on facts and avoid bias based on personality or personal relationships.

What Are the Alternatives of 9 Box Performance Review?

The 9-box is a great tool but is not the only option. Here are some excellent alternatives for strategic performance management that you can consider:

  • 360-Degree Feedback: This approach gathers feedback from multiple sources, including colleagues, managers, and clients. It provides a well-rounded picture of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses from different perspectives.
  • Consistent Coaching Sessions: Consider ongoing coaching conversations instead of yearly reviews. This allows for continuous development and feedback, supporting a more open and supportive work environment.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Utilize data and analytics to track performance metrics and identify areas for improvement. This data can be from performance management software, customer satisfaction surveys, or project tracking tools.
  • Self-Examination: Encourage employees to reflect on their performance actively. Provide them with tools and resources to set goals, track progress, and identify areas for self-development.


The 9-box framework empowers you to move away from generic reviews and focus on targeted development for each individual. This supports a culture of growth, boosts employee engagement, and helps you build a high-performing team poised for success.

Feeling overwhelmed by implementing the 9-box framework? Consider partnering with our Performance Management Consultants

We can help you tailor the 9 box performance review to your needs, develop effective development plans, and guide you through the process.

Frequently Asked Question

1: How do you score a 9-box?

The 9-box visually places employees based on their performance (high, moderate, low) and potential (high, moderate, low). This helps target development and identify future leaders.

2: What is the 9-box model Mckinsey?

The McKinsey 9-box model is a talent management tool that uses a grid to assess employees based on their performance and potential for future growth. This helps managers identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for development.

3: What are the 9 boxes in a workday?

The phrase “9 boxes in a workday” likely doesn’t refer to a standard structure. It might be a specific system used in a particular workplace or industry. It’s best to clarify with your manager or colleagues if you’re unsure.

4: Why is the 9 box performance review grid outdated?

The 9-box grid can be outdated because it relies on labeling people and might miss potential. It’s a good starting point, but consider using it with other methods for a more complete picture.

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Gaurav Sabharwal


Gaurav is the CEO of JOP (Joy of Performing), an OKR and high-performance enabling platform. With almost two decades of experience in building businesses, he knows what it takes to enable high performance within a team and engage them in the business. He supports organizations globally by becoming their growth partner and helping them build high-performing teams by tackling issues like lack of focus, unclear goals, unaligned teams, lack of funding, no continuous improvement framework, etc. He is a Certified OKR Coach and loves to share helpful resources and address common organizational challenges to help drive team performance. Read More

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