Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nine Leadership Development Strategies for a Performance and Potential Matrix

I've written previous posts on how to use a 9-box performance and potential matrix for assessing leadership performance and potential.

I've also provided three general development strategies to use once leaders are assessed:

I'm often asked for more specific information and development strategies for each of the nine boxes on the grid.
Here's a breakdown for each of the nine boxes. These are of course just general guidelines, and judgement needs to be applied depending on context and the unique needs of the individual leader.

1A (high potential, high performance):
· 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 term 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
· Access to exclusive training opportunities
· Access to meetings, committees, etc… one level up; exposure to senior managers, VPs; advisory Councils
· Watch out for signs of burnout
· Watch for signs of retention risks; know how to “save” a hi-po
· 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

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

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 “OK 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 boarding, 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

This post was sponsored by Atlantic Global, experts in developing and delivering cost-effective
 project management software.


Anonymous said...


I hope you will continue to write about talent management using these specific examples and models.

Since this is where you and I live our lives each day, it becomes almost second nature to think about organizations using models like these.

Traveling around the world and introducing systematic talent management to different companies has reminded me that it's not second nature to most; and, that clear models showing "what, "why," and "how" are exceedingly important.

I'm seeing some assumptions made by top managers regarding their HR folks. One of those is: They are in HR so they must know all about managing talent from beginning to end. That's not necessarily true. There are terrific HR people who have specialized in other aspects of the profession for years but haven't been schooled in talent management processes.

You are providing an important body of information to many who need it right now.

Dan McCarthy said...

Steve –
Thanks, that’s rewarding come from a pro like you. Glad to hear the model may be useful to our colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

Wally Bock

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks, Wally!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan
I like this model to use as a development framework - it's good to see something that isn't a one-size-fits-all approach like most organizations use. I guess the art or science is in how you identify and categorize our people.
One school of thought is that B-players are very important in an organization, as they are the folks who work work diligently and with commitment and don't expect much in return except a salary and days to go on vacation. B-Players are the staple of a workforce. If we had nothing but A-Players, the place would be in chaos. What do you think to this?

Dan McCarthy said...

Simon -
Personally, I’ll take an entire team of A players anytime. I love working with and managing A players.

Anonymous said...


thanks for the 9 boxes framework - would you expect to see some form of standard distribution across the boxes? - Thanks - Leo

Dan McCarthy said...

Leo -
Yes, about 20% in boxes 1A, 1B, and 2A; about 10% in 3C; and all others in the rest of the boxes. There's ususally a concentraion in 2B as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi there

We are in the process of developing a series of Talent identification tools which will feed into a modified version of the 9 box framework. One of the tools floated by our HR director is some sort of first level of screener/filter/base criteria screener or filter that a manager could use. For example, the individual would not be a poor performance management plan or received a 'needs improvement' in their last performance review or is meeting their performance targets etc. Do you know of any examples or have any thoughts.

Kind regards


Dan McCarthy said...

Michelle –
I may not be following you, but I don’t think I’ve heard of what you’re describing.
I’ll use the 9 box as the way to filter a talent pool. It helps sort out your high potential high performers and your underperformers. But it sounds like you’re using it in a different way (there are many versions of the nine box).
Wouldn’t the questions I provided serve as a screen?
Email me if you’d like to follow-up.

Dan McCarthy said...

Your Career Advice Guide left the following comment (which I may have accidentally deleted):

Very useful points. It is very important for supervisors to understand the potential and then groom the future leaders. After all, everyone wants to grow and support is always welcome. Moreover, when the managers move to the next level, it is their responsibility to have someone ready to take on their roles.

posting-up said...

Hi, Dan:
I'm also an OD practitioner and one of my clients has asked me to facilitate the 9-Box for her direct reports group (with their directs as the target for the exercise). I need some advice for ground rules. This team has a new leader, promoted from within -- yes, a previous peer to the group -- and trust isn't very high among them yet. I can imagine this conversation "going in the tank" pretty quickly, and becoming very defensive. What suggestions do you have to help me set them up for success?

Dan McCarthy said...

Posting up:
While I’ve never had problems with a new internal promotion, a lack of trust can indeed cause problems. However, I don’t believe that’s a reason not to do it.
I’d suggest having a pre-meeting to go over process and ground rules. Have the manager set the expectation for candor, teamwork, respect, and shared ownership for talent management.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi, this opportunity to learn more about Talent Management is a must, because I am trying to develop this management process in my Company and I could understand how HR department can support managers.
Renata Tavares - Brazil