What Is the 9-Box Model? Expert Tips for Performance Management
What Is a 9-Box Review?
A 9-box grid is a performance management framework that helps managers provide objective, unbiased evaluations.
As HR professionals, we rely on performance assessments to help employees achieve their full potential—or spot misalignment as early as possible.
But for much of the working world, performance management includes abstract concepts such as initiative and employee engagement. Measuring these intangible factors is challenging enough; and when you consider that every person interprets performance metrics slightly differently, it's clear that organizations need to have a solid plan.
The 9-box model aims to solve these problems. This performance management framework charts employees' contributions in the past and future, helping managers reflect on both an employee's work and their potential.
But even though the 9-box model provides an accessible starting point for better performance reviews, experts recommend a more robust model. After all, getting as clear a picture of each employee’s performance as possible helps you deliver more relevant recognition and more appropriate support, helping them continue to provide excellent work.
At BambooHR, we make it simple for organizations to implement an intuitive, research-backed performance management. Beyond basic metrics, the system is designed to supplement—not replace—extensive conversations with each employee. Want to explore BambooHR's Performance Management for yourself? Start your free, no-obligation trial today!
What Is the 9-Box Model?
The 9-box model—also called the 9-block grid—is an assessment tool that simplifies performance management by placing an employee within a framework that determines their future within the organization.
In the 9-box framework, managers evaluate an employee’s work on two axes:
- Past performance
- Future potential
Each reviewer then rates the employee's performance on a scale from low to high and plots the result on the 9-box grid.
After determining an employee’s position on the 9-box grid, decision-makers have a frame of reference for continuing discussions about how and where to invest their efforts, including:
- Recognizing high-performing employees for their excellent results.
- Supporting employees in improving performance or increasing potential to help them move up and to the right on the grid.
- Identifying employees who consistently underperform and show little interest in their potential to offer a better-aligned position—or for termination.
Here’s an example of a typical 9-box model:
Companies can easily customize the 9-box model, according to a team's performance metrics and goals.
Pros and Cons of the 9-Box Model
If you want to nurture high performers, you’ll need a wide range of tools to coordinate and standardize your performance evaluations. The 9-box grid is one such tool—but it doesn’t capture the full picture of an employee's performance or fully protect against conscious or unconscious bias.
It’s fast. The simple scoring system and uncomplicated format makes the 9-box grid easy to teach, easy to implement, and quick to read, cutting down on valuable time triaging employee performance.
It’s forward-focused. The 9-box grid helps evaluators focus on the employee’s future as much as on their current performance, making the evaluation more than a reaction to recent events.
It has a broad application. The 9-box grid allows managers in different areas to provide leadership with a more accurate understanding of employee performance, even when that performance isn’t based on concrete metrics like sales numbers.
It’s straightforward. As long as leadership trusts managers in their judgements of an employee’s performance and potential, the 9-box grid saves the time and effort leadership would spend learning about the role and the individual before making a decision.
It’s imprecise. The aspects that make a 9-box grid straightforward also make it imprecise. How does each manager define performance and potential? Is an employee performing at 67% of peak performance a high performer in the top third, or did they earn a D grade and deserve to be in the Low group? When these definitions don’t match up for two different evaluators, it leads to incorrect assumptions.
It’s still vulnerable to bias. Human bias evolved to help us make quick decisions based on surface-level information like appearance or word association. While the 9-box grid includes potential as one of the measurements to encourage managers to consider the future, using labels for each box runs the risk of fixing employee reputations in their minds for future snap judgments. For example, a manager might dismiss an Inconsistent Player from consideration for a challenging project before giving the project to an overloaded High Performer.
It’s a simple measurement. Evaluating employees is only one small part of an effective performance management process. The 9-box grid gives you an idea of where to begin, but it can’t take the place of an in-depth employee evaluation, much less guide your entire program.
Alternatives to the 9-Box Model
An evaluation grid is only as good as the shared understanding it's built on.
That understanding is rooted in the knowledge that performance management is a multifaceted, time-consuming, incremental, and above all, human endeavor. Developing high performers is the sum of many parts—not the number spit out by a simple grid or even a complicated performance analysis formula.
For example, BambooHR's Performance Management software goes beyond the 9-box model by bringing together:
- Regular Coaching. Managers work with employees to set and achieve personal performance goals.
- Self-Reflection. Employees record their impressions of their own performance.
- 360 Feedback. Regular, anonymous peer feedback provides additional perspective from those who work closely with the employee.
- Data-Driven Insights. Performance management data rolls into reports that capture the state of each team and department, so executives can spot performance trends and adjust accordingly.
With comprehensive performance management, evaluations don’t come from a manager’s most recent impressions—or biases, for that matter. Instead, evaluations are shaped by regular, in-person conversations and software-assisted evaluations from managers, peers, and the employees themselves.
When performance management is done well, there are no surprises. Employees will know their strengths and weaknesses, and managers will have data-driven insights that accurately capture the state of their teams.
Performance Management Made Easy.
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