leadership development

What is 9 Box Talent Review and Steps For Effectively Implementing It

Learn what the 9 Box Talent Review is and how to supercharge it with Together to optimize talent management and development in your organization.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

May 27, 2024

Updated on 

Time to Read

mins read time

73% of business executives expect talent shortages over the next few years. That’s why it is important to identify, develop, and retain high performers, so you can build a team that stays with you in the long run and gives you the results you need to outperform the competition.

The 9 box talent review will help you build such a team.

What is the 9 box talent review? 

A visual framework utilized in talent management, the review employs a 3x3 grid. A horizontal axis represents performance (past accomplishments and current capabilities). Another vertical axis represents potential (future growth and leadership abilities). 

The resulting nine distinct boxes each signify a specific combination of performance and potential for each employee within the organization.

So, by analyzing where employees fall within the grid, organizations can:

  • Identify high-potential and high performing employees–prime candidates for leadership development programs and future promotions.
  • Develop targeted interventions–low performance, high potential category–to reach their future potential.
  • Make informed decisions–retention, development, and succession planning

Pain points addressed by the 9 box talent review

Here are several roadblocks that hinder effective talent management:

Identifying high-potential employees

Spotting individuals with the potential to excel in leadership roles can be a challenge for at least two reasons:

  1. Without a defined framework for assessment, traditional methods rely on subjective evaluations.
  2. It can be difficult to distinguish high-potential employees from strong performers. 

With the 9 box grid, all assessors need to do is pick employees from the high potential and high performance category. These individuals don’t just have the talent but also the drive to excel in leadership roles. 

In short, it’s about identifying such employees early on. Then, organizations can invest in their development and ensure a steady pipeline of future leaders.

Succession planning challenges

For S&P 1500 companies, ill-managed CEO transitions could wipe out $1 trillion in market value annually! Ensuring a smooth transition for key positions requires a clear understanding of potential successors within the organization. Again, that’s something that can be difficult without a systematic approach to talent assessment. 

The grid prevents organizations from experiencing a reactive scramble when leadership roles become vacant. It brings potential successors to light proactively. 

Developing these individuals through targeted training programs and mentorship opportunities ensures a smoother transition.

Unstructured workforce development

74% of organizations consider upskilling existing talent important as compared to 54% that would hire new talent.

Finally, developing a skilled and engaged workforce requires a targeted approach to talent identification too. That means building a comprehensive picture of employee strengths and weaknesses is essential. 

For maximum impact, organizations need to tailor development efforts to specific employee needs.

Generic training programs just don’t cut it anymore.

The data from the 9 box review process helps organizations do just that. For example, high performance and low potential employees may benefit from training programs that enhance specific skills. Low performance and high potential, on the other hand, may require coaching and mentoring to bridge the performance gap.

Implementing the 9 box talent review

Successful implementation of the 9 box talent review requires a well-defined approach. 

Here's a step-by-step guide for organizations can use:

1. Define performance and potential criteria

The 9 box system roots lie in establishing clear and measurable criteria for both performance and potential. 

So, your first step should be to figure out:

  • Performance–goal achievement, key performance indicators (KPIs), technical skills, and adherence to company policies 
  • Potential–indicators of future growth, such as learning agility, leadership qualities, and strategic thinking

2. Gather data

Next, paint a comprehensive picture of each employee using data from various sources, including:

  • Performance reviews
  • Skills assessments
  • Feedback from managers and peers
  • Training records

3. Conduct rating meetings

Assemble a review team consisting of managers and HR professionals. Next, utilize the defined criteria to objectively assess each employee's performance and potential. Then, place them within the appropriate box on the 9 grid. Finally, remember, open discussions and data-driven reasoning are crucial during this stage.

4. Develop action plans

With employees placed within the 9 box grid, the focus shifts towards creating actionable plans:

5. Continuous monitoring and improvement

The 9 box review process shouldn't be a one-time event! In fact, you should:

  • Regularly track employee progress
  • Review and re-orient development plans as needed
  • Consider conducting pulse surveys to gather employee feedback

Leveraging the 9 box talent review for succession planning

As mentioned above, this talent review process not only identifies high-potential employees. It also empowers organizations to cultivate them into future leaders

Therefore, HR professionals and managers should implement the following strategies to nurture and develop the individuals this process highlights:

1. Targeted development programs

The 9 box grid provides a roadmap for designing targeted development programs that address specific needs. 

For instance, high potential, needs development employees demonstrate strong leadership qualities but lack certain skills. So, customized programs might be in order. 

They can include:

  • Leadership development workshops, such as strategic thinking, communication, and team building–training important to 70% of frontline leaders
  • Mentorship opportunities where experienced leaders provide guidance, share industry knowledge, and offer career coaching
  • Stretch assignments or challenging projects that stimulate growth and development of critical skills

2. Investing in continuous learning

A culture of continuous learning is paramount for developing future leaders.

For example, ongoing learning can be really beneficial for employees who consistently exceed expectations but may benefit from further development.

Invest in your high performer, high potential employees via:

  • Sponsorship for industry conferences and workshops for exposure to the latest trends and innovations within their field
  • Tuition reimbursement for professional courses and certifications (relevant to both their career goals and the organization's strategic needs)
  • Access to online learning platforms with courses and resources for diverse learning styles and development needs

3. Succession planning with a purpose

We mentioned the 9 box grid facilitates a proactive approach to succession planning. Through it, organizations can create a talent pool for future leadership roles. It takes more than 5 months to hire new people!

Here's how you can use its data to inform your succession planning strategies:

  • Identify potentials early
  • Create opportunities where they present ideas to senior leadership
  • Increase visibility by allowing them to participate in cross-functional projects
  • Facilitate forming of well-matched mentorships

How to overcome 9 box talent review challenges and common pitfalls 

If it’s so good at predicting which talents to nourish, why doesn’t every organization use the 9 box review? 

And even out of those that do, why don’t all report a high rate of success?

Here are several roadblocks that make it so and practical tips to ensure you get the most out of this valuable tool:

Challenge #1: Rater bias can skew accuracy


  1. Establish well-defined performance and potential metrics aligned with your organization's goals 
  2. Conduct training sessions for those doing the reviews

Challenge #2: Low quality or limited data minimizes effectiveness


  1. Gather data from beyond performance reviews, such as skills assessments, project evaluations, and client/peer feedback
  2. Consider a talent management system

Challenge #3: Lack of follow-through can mean low impact


  1. Develop actionable development plans based on each employee's grid placement
  2. Schedule regular check-ins 
  3. Consider a performance management system for goal setting, tracking progress, and providing feedback

Together's role in the 9 box talent review process 

You’ve created a solid foundation for talent management with the 9 box framework. What’s next? 

Power it up with Together for a comprehensive solution that overcomes the challenges mentioned above and maximizes its effectiveness. 

Here's why:

Data aggregation and integration

Let Together seamlessly gather data from a wide range of sources, ensuring a data-driven approach to talent reviews.

Visualization and analysis 

Together provides user-friendly dashboards displaying the 9 box grid. HR professionals and managers can use it to easily identify patterns and trends. Again, this feature facilitates data-driven decision making.

Facilitating talent review meetings

Together provides a centralized platform for stakeholders to collaborate and discuss employees' placement. They’ll receive real-time updates and annotations during meetings, ensuring the availability of the most current information.

Customization and configuration 

Together also offers customization options for the 9 Box grid and talent review process. HR professionals can:

  1. Define criteria for evaluating performance and potential
  2. Customize the layout and appearance of the grid

Integration with development plans 

Together seamlessly integrates with employee development plans. Based on the talent review, HR professionals and managers create actionable plans. 

For instance, they can assign specific development activities to employees directly within the platform. This also ensures the individual employee’s development efforts remain aligned with organizational goals.

Tracking progress and follow-up

Together also tracks employees' progress against their development plans. Managers will receive notifications and reminders and can then take follow-up actions. 

Therefore, employees continue to receive the support and resources they need to achieve their goals while also achieving organizational development.

Taking the next step 

The 9 box talent review process can aid organizations in unlocking the true potential of their workforce and achieve strategic business goals. By also systematically evaluating future potential, it can empower HR professionals and managers to make informed decisions about talent development, succession planning, and overall workforce management. 

The resulting culture of continuous learning and growth leads to increased employee engagement, innovation, and ultimately, a stronger competitive edge.

Ready to harness the power of the 9 box talent review process?

Check out Together’s data-driven approach, tools, and functionalities in this regard with a free trial or demo!

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