The Four-Box Grid for Talent-Tracking in Small Teams or Organizations
By James Houran Managing Director, AETHOS Consulting Group | November 03, 2019
Co-authored by David Mansbach, Managing Director, AETHOS Consulting Group, Inc.
The Nine-Box Grid is a popular and widely used tool for categorizing and tracking talent. Specifically, the idea is to assign team members to a box based on two dimensions – their current performance and future potential. As seen in Figure 1, the horizontal axis typically has three levels of performance and the vertical axis includes three levels of potential. An evaluation committee subsequently makes a judgement about the placement of each team member. Furthermore, organizations often attribute different labels to each box, beyond the obvious "high potential/high performance."
Figure 1: Traditional Nine-Box Grid for Talent-Tracking
However, the Nine-Box Grid is arguably most appropriate and effective for large organizations - that is, teams or companies with enough individuals to map against each of the nine levels of talent inherent to the tool. This means that it is challenging or infeasible for supervisors and HR practitioners working at mid-tier and smaller organizations to receive the full benefits from the classic version. Even with talent pools of sufficient size, however, problems can still arise from ambiguities or inconsistencies using nine categories.
In particular, it is well known from leading-edge studies in the field of psychometrics, tests, and measurements that Likert-type response options are most reliable when raters are presented with four categories, as opposed to the traditional five, seven, or 10 choices. In these latter scenarios, consistency breaks down quickly in how raters define and use the respective rating categories. The outcome tends to be unreliable and uninterpretable data with no practical value. Likewise, the Nine-Box Grid is vulnerable to this same pitfall of potential discrepancies or inconsistencies in how HR practitioners or managers define and apply each of the nine levels of performance.