Using the performance and potential matrix to assess talent

Note: for an updated (Jan 2012) version of this post, see The Performance and Potential Matrix (9 Box Grid) – an Update.

The performance and potential matrix (9 box grid) is one the best talent management tools I’ve ever used. Here’s a tutorial on how to use the tool:

What is it?

The matrix is used to evaluate an organization’s talent pool. Here’s the basic format:
The X axis (horizontal line) of 3 boxes assesses leadership performance and the Y axis of 3 boxes (vertical line) assesses leadership potential. A combination of Y and X axis makes up the box within the grid that the leader is placed. 1A – High Performance/High Potential, 3C – Low Performance/Low Potential, etc…

Why use it?

1. It’s a simple way to assess any population of leaders on two important dimensions

2. It’s a great way to facilitate a dialog amongst a senior leadership team. Teams use it to calibrate their expectations and ratings

3. With a good open debate, the multiple perspectives provide for a much more accurate assessment (vs. one person’s opinion)

4. The process can facilitate a shared sense of ownership for the organizations talent pool

5. It’s a great way to identify development needs and transition to development planning

How to use it

The tool is best if used by a team and facilitated by someone who has experience with the process. This could be an HR person, OD consultant, or someone responsible for leadership development or succession planning. You should present the tool and process to the team to make sure they all understand and buy in to the purpose and process. Don’t underestimate the amount of anxiety if a team has never done anything like this before (a ranking exercise). It’s best to decide ahead of time how performance will be assessed (use a leadership competency model if you have one) and how potential will be assessed (again, best to decide ahead of time – I use specific potential criteria).

You could also ask for any other relevant information, such as years in current position, diversity status, retention risk, or relocatability. I usually have each manager plot their direct report managers (one level at a time, so we’re comparing apples to apples) and send their completed grid to me. I then consolidate all of the names on to one grid. Either as part of a multi-day off-site meeting or a standalone four hour meeting bring copies of the consolidated grid and start the discussion.

It’s easier picking someone in the 1A box (highest performance and potential) where you think there may be little disagreement. Ask the sponsor manager to explain the rationale for the assessment. Ask lot’s of why’s, then invite all others to comment. Don’t rush it, the benefit of this process is in the discussion. After all have been heard from, if there is agreement, then you have a benchmark for all others to compare against. If disagreement in perception, ask the sponsor manager if they want to change their mind based on the feedback – usually they do – but if not, leave it. Pick another name until you establish the benchmark. You can then discuss rest of the names in the 1A box, then move to the bordering boxes (1B and 2A). Then move to the 3C box, and again, facilitate a dialog to establish another benchmark. Continue the discussion for each person, or as many as time permits.

If time, or most likely at a follow-up meeting, the team can then discuss development plans for each leader. For succession planning, the focus should be on the upper right hand corner boxes (1A, 1B, and 2A) – this is your high potential pool.

Next Steps

Follow-up on a quarterly basis to monitor development plans. Repeat the assessment process at least once a year.

Need help using the 9-box? I can help you and your management team learn to use it, and/or conduct a talent review meeting for you. Email me at:

3/28/09 Update:

I’ve since written the following posts on using the potential matrix:

Nine Leadership Development Strategies for a Performance and Potential Matrix

Leadership development for A players

Leadership development for B players

Leadership development for C players

Reader Question: Nine Box Performance and Potential Matrix Best Practices

How to “Score” Leadership Potential When Using the Performance and Potential Matrix