9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (2024)

What is the 9-Box Performance Grid?

The 9-Box Performance Grid is a tool that helps companies evaluate their employees and which Position and Career path best suits them.

It is based on 2 variables:

  • Potential.
    • How valuable an employee can become.
  • Performance.
    • How much an employee works and with what quality.

These 2 variables are bothquantified into three categories:

  • High.
  • Medium.
  • Low.

The result is a 3 x 3 Matrix with 9 possible Profiles:

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (1)

Classic 9-Box Performance Grid representation.

If you think about it, it is a Future/ Present comparison:

  • Where someone could get vs Where he is right now.

Difference between the 9-Box performance Grid and the Manstein matrix

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (2)

Maybe you already know Manstein‘s matrix (we talked about a similar matrix in our “Teamwork Skills and Profiles” page).

It describes employees according to:

  • How hard they work.
  • How intelligent they are.

This 9-Box Performance Grid is very similar.

  • Intelligence is similar to Potential.
  • Hard work is similar to Performance.

However, we think Manstein’s matrix can be contained in the 9-Box Performance grid but not vice versa.


1. Hard work is a Variable within Performance.

  • Only Hard work is not enough to describe Performance.
    • Talented people don’t need as much work as Average workers.

2. Intelligence is a Variable within Potential (maybe the most important).

  • But if some intelligent employee is not focused, not willing to work hard… His potential could even be zero, no matter how intelligent he is.

Therefore, the 9-Box Performance grid provides more accurate information than Manstein’s.

  • Probably, Manstein’s matrix was before, and the 9-Box grid was based on it.

But that wouldn’t change anything.

This matrix seems easy to build.

But… How can you evaluate someone’s Potential? or his Performance?

How to assess Potential

Evaluating someone’s Potential is very difficult.

  • There is no magic test that reflects people’s Potential.

Also, someone can be very good at something but terrible at other things.

However, we’ll give you 5 Tips that we have used successfully in different companies:

  • Make a list of the desired Skills for each Job position.
    • A Commercial doesn’t require the same skills than a PHP programmer.
  • List how many of those Skills each employee meets.
    • You can use a Professional Development Matrix
  • Use academic Background and personal achievements as indicators.
    • The higher the better.
  • Use periodic evaluations, developed by different bosses.
    • The more feedback, the better.
  • Interview your employees and evaluate:
    • Motivation.
    • Self-realization.
    • Focus.
    • Intelligence (this is difficult).

How to assess Performance

Assessing someone’s Performance at work is much easier.

It depends on multiple factors, of course, but, if your company is well “goal-oriented”, you’ll only have to analyze if the employee is meeting his objectives or not.

What happens if a company is not properly goal-oriented?

  • Then, it is very difficult to assess how someone is performing.

We have met many Managers who complained about their employees, but the real problem was that the company was a total disaster.

  • No one knew what they had to do, when, how or why.

When evaluating someone’s performance, don’t forget these 3 factors :

  • 1. Know.
    • Does he know what he has to do?
      • His goals.
      • The expected quality .
      • Deadlines.
      • etc…
  • 2. Can.
    • Is he physically able to do it?
      • Does he have the resources necessary to do what he has to do?
        • A Computer.
        • A proper Tool
        • etc…
    • Has he received enough training and knowledge about what he has to do?
      • And how to do it properly.
  • 3. Want.
    • Does he want to do what he has to do?
      • If he knows what to do…
      • If he can do it…
      • …But if he doesn’t do it, it is because he doesn’t want to do it.

Once you know how to evaluate Potential and Performance, it is time to see the resulting profiles:

9-Box Profiles

The 9-Box Performance Grid offers 3 “obvious” and 6 more complex Profiles .

Let’s look first at the “obvious” Profiles:

Star Leader

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (3)

If an employee:

  • Has proven to make successful decisions constantly.
  • Has above-average Skills.
  • Has received always wonderful feedback.
  • Is motivated and takes responsibility.
  • etc…

If someone meets these characteristics (and is also a good Team worker) he (or she) should be in a Top Management position.

Average Worker

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (4)

If an employee:

  • Has on-average skills.
  • Is motivated just by his salary (not by the challenge or by more responsibility).
  • Receives mediocre feedback everywhere.
  • Does his work, but doesn’t try to improve it in any way.
  • etc…

If someone meet these characteristics, he (or she) should never hold managerial or decision-making positions.

Fire Immediately

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (5)

If an employee:

  • Has below average Skills.
  • Is not interested about his job.
  • Receives bad feedback from everybody.
  • Doesn’t try to improve.
  • Always believes that the fault lies with others.
  • etc…

He (or she) shouldbe fired as soon as possible.

Now, let’s talk about those more complex intermediate Profiles:

What about the Intermediate Profiles?

These 6 intermediate Profiles can be divided into 2 categories:

  • Employees with better Performance than Potential.
  • Employees with more Potential than Performance.

Let’s look at each of these situations:

More Potential than Performance:

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (6)

As you can see in the picture above, these 3 profiles should receive some kind of orientation:

  • Mentoring programs.
  • Coaching.
  • Interviews to discover their motivations.

This poor performance may be due to very different reasons.

A good way to increase the performance of this type of employees is to assign them the Tasks that best suit them.

More Performance than Potential:

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (7)

We won’t lie to you: this is unusual.

However, if you find some employee with this Profile, you should take care of him.

The company can’t do much more to improve their results: the goal is to maintain this high performance.

  • Moreover, they can be a good example for other employees.

As you can see in the image above, with Medium Potential and High Performance, these employees can become 2nd-rank managers.

All these assumptions don’t contemplate one little but important factor: How ambitious is the employee.

When Ambition and Potential don't match

When someone’s Potential differs from his level of Ambition is when there may be misunderstandings.

Why don’t we talk about Performance?

  • Because Performance can be measured “objectively”.

It is easy not to promote someone if he didn’t achieved his goals. It is easy to explain.

But how do you tell someone that he won’t be promoted because he is not smart enough?

  • What happens if he is not aware of his limitations?

You can have 2 situations:

  • When someone has more Potential than Ambition.
  • When someone has more Ambition than Potential.

More Potential than Ambition

This situation is not unusual.

Companies should try to Motivate this type of employees.

Sometimes people are not motivated because they have not discovered what motivates them.

Other times, people with high Potential are simply not Ambitious at all.

  • In this situation, companies shouldn’t try to push them too much.
    • Just assume how these employees are.

More Ambition than Potential

This is a much more common situation.

The World is full of mediocre people with excessive ambition.

And many people are not willing to admit their limitations (we all have).

What to do with these Profiles?

Exactly what we mentioned before: Set Objectives and Goals.

  • Be as goal-oriented as possible.

No matter how ambitious someone is: if he sees that he is not meeting his goals when other coworkers can do it, sooner or later he’ll realize his limitations.

Let’s see some examples:

9-Box Performance Grid examples

No, we’ll give you 3 practical examples about different situations and how we would handle them.

  • These situations are based on real situations that we experienced in the past.

High Potential and Low Performance - 9-Box Example

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (8)

You have an employee with:

  • High Potential.
  • Low Performance.

He is a very smart person, with impressive Skills.

However, he is not performing very well.

  • What do you do?

First: A Mentoring program.

The First thing you do is assign him a Mentor.

After some weeks you find out one thing:

  • He hates his current Job position.
    • He needs more challenging Tasks.

Second: You assign him a different Job position, recommended by his Mentor.

In this new position, he is Performing much better, but still at a Medium level.

  • He is doing everything very well, but you realize he lacks decision-making Skills.
    • This is preventing him from developing his full potential.

Third: You assign him a Coaching Program.

As soon as he improves his decision-making Skills, his Performance increases drastically.

  • In few years, he’ll be ready to become a Manager.

Average Worker with High Ambition - 9-Box example

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (9)

Now, you have an employee with:

  • Average Potential.
  • Average Performance.

…But with a very high Ambition.

Many of his friends in the company have been promoted and he is convinced that he should be promoted too.

These type of employees can increase their Performance, but also decrease it if they feel “underestimated” or “ignored”.

Moreover, they can become “Toxic” employees.

  • What do you do?

First: You make sure all his tasks are perfectly defined.

It is very common not to have everything perfectly defined.

  • Companies need flexibility and, things change over time.

But with these type of employees, you have to make an extra effort.

Second: You let him know what a promotion requires.

You don’t need to tell him directly, but in a softer or indirect way.

You tell his boss to mention him what others did in the past for get promoted.

  • For example:
    • Travelling a lot.
    • Selling a 20% more than average.
    • Increase margins for the company.

How this ends:

The perfect result is this employee thinking:

  • “I am smart enough to get a promotion but it is not worth it. It’s too much work”.

Useless Worker - 9-Box example

9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (10)

Now, you have an employee with:

  • Low Potential.
  • Low Performance.

We recommended to fire these employees as soon as possible, but we know that this is not always as easy as it seems.

But, if you want to fire somebody, recording everything he is doing wrong, helps.

  • If he is not meeting his goals.
  • If he is late.
  • If he doesn’t care about his Job.
  • etc.

Then, what do you do in this situation?

First: Offer some guidance to this employee.

You should always offer these employees a “last chance”.

  • Maybe he had a terrible boss in the past.
  • Maybe something is preventing him from doing his job better.

You assign this employee a Mentor in order to find out if you can expect some improvement.

Second: Is there any solution?

If this Mentor gives you “good news” then you should try to improve his Performance.

  • Maybe assigning him other tasks.
  • Maybe with some Coaching.
  • etc.

But, if this Mentor says “there is no solution”, then:

Third: Record every goal and Objective he is not achieving.

Generate a good and objective record for weeks or months.

Don’t tell him anything.

Never threaten these employees.

  • That is absolutely useless. Always.

Fourth: No solution? Fire him.

With all these records, it will be much easier to justify a dismissal.


The 9-Box Performance Grid is a tool that helps companies evaluate their employees and which Position and Career path best suits them.

It offers 5 possible main Profiles:

  • A Star Leader.
    • Should be in Top Management positions.
  • An Average employee.
    • Should hold average tasks and Job positions.
  • A Terrible employee.
    • Should receive a “last chance” for improvement.
      • If they don’t improve their Performance, they should be fired.
  • More Potential than Performance employees.
    • Need guidance for finding their Motivations.
  • More Performance than Potential employees.
    • Companies should try to maintain their good Performance.

It is not always easy to guess what is best for an employee, but you should always remember:

  • It is much easier if the company is goal-oriented.
    • Everyone knows what to do and what is expected of them.
  • Talking with employees is always a good option.
    • You can use a Mentor, a Coach, etc…
  • Threats are useless.
    • If you have to fire somebody, do it. But don’t expect better results with a threat.
9-Box Performance grid perfectly explained (2024)


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