Executive Handbook

How to assess your team

matrix employee potential

The 9-box gives managers a tool to assess employees for their potential to advance. (FCW graphic)

Technology executives at federal agencies must oversee and develop a wide range of employees: longtime civil servants, political appointees, their own hires and (far more often) those they have inherited. The performance and potential matrix, commonly referred to as the 9-box, is a simple yet effective tool used to assess, manage and develop talent in organizations. It assesses individuals on two dimensions: their past performance and their future potential.

The 9-box helps a leadership team differentiate talent so that managers can better capitalize on and deploy it. Some people are better suited to a specialist position, while others might have potential to move into a larger role.

Although the 9-box is a versatile tool with many variations, it typically looks like a tic-tac-toe board, with the x-axis (horizontal line) of three boxes representing performance and the y-axis of three boxes (vertical line) representing potential. In other words, the top right square means high performance/high potential, while the bottom left square means low performance/low potential.


Read the full Executive Handbook package

Main page
How to spot a turkey farm
How to make the most of a mentor
How to share a service
How to join the Senior Executive Service
How to influence policy
How to stay out of the weeds
How to learn from success
How to foster better performance
How conformists can spark creativity

To use the matrix, managers assign each of their employees to the appropriate box on the grid, and all that information is consolidated onto one master grid. Then, in a talent review meeting, a team facilitator (someone with experience in using the 9-box) guides managers in a discussion of each employee’s performance and potential.

The beauty of the tool lies in its simplicity and ease of use. With a little explanation and initial facilitation, managers usually catch on quickly. The matrix helps overcome many of the common pitfalls when it comes to talent assessment, including overemphasis on current performance, overreliance on a single opinion, and a lack of assessment criteria or inconsistent criteria.

It is also a catalyst for robust dialogue. Filling out the grid is not the end goal; it’s all about the discussion. Most managers are not very skilled when it comes to assessing talent and are hesitant to discuss another manager’s employees or listen to feedback about their own. This tool helps provide a structured way to have those conversations in a professional, productive manner.

Even if you lack clear, consistent definitions of performance and potential going into a talent review, if you use this tool, you will have those definitions by the time you are done. In fact, for many managers, it will be the first time they have heard their bosses voice their expectations, and they will often discreetly begin jotting down notes and assessing themselves.

The accuracy of assessing performance and potential improves with multiple data points. Managers often have blind spots with their employees and are unaware of how they are perceived by others. These discussions can help shine a light on superstars and poor performers alike.

Finally, using the 9-box as part of a talent review uncovers strengths and weaknesses for the agency as well as the individual. The grid serves as an assessment of actions needed to strengthen the organization and provides a visual depiction of an agency’s bench strength — a valuable snapshot of talent and the opportunities or challenges that come with it.

About the Author

Dan McCarthy is director of executive development programs at the University of New Hampshire. He’s the author of the award-winning leadership development blog “Great Leadership” and “The Great Leadership Development and Succession Planning Kit” e-book. He can be reached at daniel.mccarthy@unh.edu.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above