Is Your 9-Box Model Weeding Out the Wrong People?

Al Schnur
by Al Schnur

Al has personally conducted more than 5,000 high-level evaluations during his career, and is particularly proud that more than 250,000 candidates have participated in assessment programs he designed. At present, Al focuses on C-level succession planning and assessment in support of CEOs, Boards and other high-level stakeholders.

Imagine striking the same piano key over and over—sure, doing so makes a sound, but you can’t really call it music.

Similarly, relying too much on a “one-note” strategy in your selection process can be dangerous.

In principle, something like the 9-Box Model can make it easier to reach a consensus on high-potential employees. But in practice, you can weed out good candidates if for one reason or another you misread their strengths and weaknesses.

Defining Potential

One thorny issue with the 9-Box Model starts with how you define potential.

Most organizations use the standard low-, medium- and high-potential designations, the same ones that power the 9-Box Model.

But potential can be broken down into different categories than these basic terms allow.

When measuring an employee’s potential, you should look at multiple dimensions. Can they take on new responsibilities and learn new skills? Can they add more responsibilities to existing ones? Do they show a capacity to improve performance in their existing role? Do you think they’ll be capable of making the transition through one more of the leadership passages?

An employee may be strong in certain potential areas and weak in others. This could land them in the wrong box and stunt their growth and development.

Measuring Performance

When it comes to evaluating performance, results can differ based on the ideas, impressions and biases a manager consciously or subconsciously employs when grading an employee.

Since these criteria can vary from one manager to the next, the data gathered can naturally skew from objective to subjective.

And subjective data, of course, can spell disaster when it comes to leadership selection. You can end up choosing a candidate who fits a hiring manager’s personal taste rather than the one who is best suited to be a leader.

Look “outside the box” whenever possible to get a more complete picture of a leadership candidate’s true abilities. The 9-Box Model can act as a useful guide in your leadership selection process, but it should never offer the final decision on who fits into your organization’s succession plan.

How to Properly Define Potential and Measure Performance

Comprehensive assessments complete your leadership development picture in ways that the 9-Box Model simply can’t by itself.

How? When you test leadership candidates in all areas related to potential and performance, the end result is a wealth of purely objective data that forecasts more accurately which candidates are your future superstars.

A comprehensive assessment process can:

  • Let you know if a low-performer simply needs to be reassigned to a different role to reach their potential.
  • Show you if a mid-level performer still has room to grow, and help you identify where to develop them.
  • Offer a broader scope in analyzing low-potential employees—helping you identify where they are lacking and whether training or development can bolster those shortcomings. 
  • Help you determine whether high-potential employees have leadership potential or not.

The bottom line is that decisions you make now will impact the overall health of your leadership pipeline, so it’s important to get things right the first time.

Better assessments—ones that don’t focus solely on the 9-Box Model—will yield better results.

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