The 9-box grid is one of the most commonly used yet damaging processes in talent management. There simply isn’t any credible evidence that it identifies talent accurately – and it is likely to lead to increased turnover amongst both those identified as talented and those who are not.

So what can you do, if you’ve already got the 9-box grid in place and it would be difficult and/or embarrassing to remove it?

A pragmatic solution is to take the position that, now the organisation has got used to the tool, it is time to employ it in more effective ways that support self-development. It will no longer be used as a tool for determining “talent”, but for helping people manage their reputation and think through potential areas of personal development. So they might conduct their own 360-degree survey, using questions that explore how other people perceive their performance and readiness to move up (or sideways) into a larger role. The boxes have to go (they limit people’s thinking, rather like the deeply discredited MBTI). In their place comes a bubble, representing the shape of other people’s perceptions. This then provides the basis for developmental conversations, with their manager, a mentor or a coach, about what they can do to a) change themselves and b) subsequently change how other people perceive them.

The rationale for this move – and for repositioning a variety of other HR processes that have outlived any usefulness they may have had – is making individuals more accountable for their own development. This is a concept line managers generally understand and welcome, making the transition a lot smoother than just consigning the grid to the waste bin!


© David Clutterbuck 2014

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