The Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management

Assessing Team Member Performance and Potential

(Also known as the Performance and Potential Matrix)

The Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management - Assessing Team Performance and Potential

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Identify your star performers.

People in your team may have a wide range of abilities.

For instance, some may be outstanding performers: they're definitely the "stars" of your organization. Or you might have people who could be star performers, if they had the right opportunities and training.

As a manager, you need to assess talent within your team. That way, you can give your people the training and development they need to reach their full potential. However, it can be a real challenge to evaluate talent objectively, which is why a tool like "the Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management" is so useful.

In this article we'll examine the Nine-Box Grid model, and discuss how to use it to develop your people.

About the Tool

The Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management (also known as the Performance and Potential Matrix), gives you a useful framework for evaluating your team members' talent.

Shown in figure 1, the X axis measures performance, while the Y axis measures potential.

Figure 1: The Nine-Box Grid

Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management Diagram

Exhibit from 'Enduring Ideas: The GE-McKinsey Nine-Box Matrix' September 2008. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission. For more information, please visit

You use the model by matching team members to the appropriate boxes, depending on their potential and their performance. You can then manage talent by providing the training and development opportunities appropriate to people in each box.


The exact origins of the Nine-Box Grid model are unclear, and there are several variations. For instance, some versions of the model say that a person with moderate potential and low performance is an "Acceptable Performer" – it's hard to see why this would be the case! However, the way in which you can apply the model is the same for all variations.

Using the Tool

To use the tool, first score team members based on their performance and their potential.

To score for performance, ask yourself, "Does this team member's performance exceed expectations, meet expectations, or fall below expectations?" (It can be useful to refer to past performance appraisals here.)

It can a challenge to measure a person's potential. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • If you promoted this person to a more challenging role tomorrow, are you confident that he or she could meet the challenge?
  • Do you feel confident that this person could learn the skills needed to perform at a higher level?
  • Have you noticed this person demonstrating leadership abilities?
  • Has this person demonstrated flexibility and open-mindedness when faced with a project that he or she has never worked on before?
  • Does this person actively seek out opportunities to learn new skills?
  • Is this person comfortable taking risks?

You could also consider asking people to go through aptitude testing; these tests can help you measure their potential objectively, as well as drawing out their strengths and abilities.

Once you've scored a person for their performance and potential, you can match him or her up with the appropriate box on the grid. You can then use your findings to ensure that appropriate training and development is taking place, so that everyone in your team can reach their true potential.


Clearly, you need to be as objective as possible when scoring people using this tool. Try to use the same criteria for each team member, and avoid letting personal feelings cloud your analysis.

Consider using different approaches to training and development with people in each group:

Star Performers (High Potential, High Performance)

Give these people lots of responsibility, and allow them to work on high profile projects that push them outside their comfort zones. Consider giving them new products to promote, new sales areas to cover, new processes to design, and so on.

You could also allow them to shadow experienced managers and executives.

Rising Stars (High Potential, Average Performance)

Development for these people is similar to Star Performers. (The only difference between them is their current performance level.) So manage performance appropriately, and provide plenty of feedback, so they know how they can improve.

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Potential Star (High Potential, Poor Performance)

Find out what's preventing these people from achieving greater performance. Do they have enough training, or the right tools? Is there another team member who's blocking or bottlenecking their progress? Would they benefit from mentoring from a high-performing colleague?

These people may also be in the wrong role. Our article on the Four Dimensions of Relational Work will help you analyze your people to ensure that they're working on the right tasks.

Key Contributors (Moderate Potential, High Performance)

With these people, use a similar approach to the one you use with Star Performers. However, you may want to focus on longer-term development, and on training at a slower pace. Here, coaching or mentoring will be effective.

Core Team Members (Moderate Potential, Average Performance)

People in this group may be perfectly happy with where they are and with what they're currently doing. So, don't pressure them to advance if they don't want to, but provide opportunities for training and development. They may also benefit from mentoring or coaching relationships.

Underperformers (Moderate Potential, Poor Performance)

You can use the same strategies for this group as for Potential Stars. However, you need to put more focus on improving performance than on their development.

Again, manage performance appropriately, and provide regular feedback and rewards for good work.


You might find that newer employees and new leaders fall into the Potential Star and Underperformer groups; so make sure that these team members are getting the training and support they need to perform well.

Trusted Team Members (Limited Potential, High Performance)

Focus on these people's motivation: what motivates them, and what development opportunities would they like? See our article on Motivating Your People to learn how to motivate them further.

Also, make sure that people in this group are rewarded appropriately for their good work, and provide regular feedback so that they keep on performing at their current good level.

You could also use people in this group to mentor and train others – as high performers, they're likely to have good skills and to be good role models.

Adequate Performers (Limited Potential, Average Performance)

Development for this group is similar to Core Team Members. Provide regular and detailed feedback about their performance, and help them improve.

Problem Team Members (Limited Potential, Poor Performance)

With people in this group you'll want to focus on their performance, not their development. Our article on Dealing with Poor Performers will help.

Make sure that people who fall into this category aren't blocking or negatively impacting anyone else on your team.

Note 1:

Some of the strategies we've highlighted above are based on ideas by Daniel McCarthy, Director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business and Economics.

Note 2:

For more on developing your people, see our article on Understanding Developmental Needs, and take our How Well Do You Develop Your People? quiz.

Key Points

The Nine-Box Grid for Talent Management helps you to evaluate talent in your team, by categorizing people based on their performance and their potential. This helps you think about how to train and develop individual team members.

The grid's nine categories are:

  • Star Performer (high potential, high performance).
  • Rising Star (high potential, average performance).
  • Potential Star (high potential, poor performance).
  • Key Contributor (moderate potential, high performance).
  • Core Team Member (moderate potential, average performance).
  • Underperformer (moderate potential, poor performance).
  • Trusted Team Member (limited potential, high performance).
  • Adequate Performer (limited potential, average performance).
  • Problem Team Member (limited potential, poor performance).

To use this model effectively, analyze team members objectively, using the same scoring criteria for each person. Also, remember that this is just one approach you can use to develop your people.