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Is the 9-Box Still Relevant? 3 Best Practices for High Potential Identification

Implement these three best practices to improve your ability to identify high potentials using a 9-box.

The 9-box continues to be the most popular tool organizations use during talent reviews to classify and identify high performers. The model serves as a simple and visual way to understand a group of leaders’ current performance and potential to advance in the organization.  

Recently, however, we have seen an increasing number of highly complex models that include many boxes, long definitions, color coding, and corresponding documentation to decode and apply talent review results. This increased complexity has business leaders and HR wondering: is the 9-box still relevant? 

At SHL, we argue that yes, the 9-box is a good method to identify high potentials as long as it serves the business’s need to differentiate leader potential and drive succession. More important than any single model, talent reviews must collect accurate and reliable data to understand the current leadership pipeline and drive action. To understand pipeline and bench broadly, it is essential to have a consistently implemented system across the organization.  

Talent reviews must collect accurate and reliable data to understand the current leadership pipeline and drive action. 

How can you know your talent review model meets your business need? Start with these 3 best practices:  

  1. Each box should be mutually exclusive 
    When using a boxed model, each box should represent a unique category of performers. Audit your historical data, and if you cannot differentiate between boxes or if leaders fall into more than one category, collapse categories and change the language to create clear boundaries.  

  2. Keep it simple 
    Is your model simple enough to explain using a 1-pager? If your model requires long definitions, color coding, and complimentary resources it is too complex for busy leaders. Simplifying increases stakeholder buy-in and drives clearer action during succession planning and development. In the world of competing priorities, simple models thrive. 

  3. Standardize cross-functionally 
    Implement one set of operational definitions for performance, potential, and aspiration to create a common language. Similarly, implement the same tools (assessments, development plans, etc.) to measure leader performance and potential across functions. While your tools may require leveling, standardization increases visibility across the organization and drives holistic succession planning.  

As you align to these best practices to standardize and simplify your talent review process, engage in continuous improvement. It can often take more than one cycle to implement a standard system. Audit and lightly tweak over time to keep your system up to current best practices. This minimizes the need for an overhaul a few years down the road. 
Organizations waste millions of dollars on poor succession planning, implementing complicated systems, and trying to gain visibility into their talent cross-functionally. Shifting your system to align with these best practices is a major step in shifting your talent review strategy from a money pit to demonstrating huge ROI. 

Talk with us today to implement a best-in-class high potential identification model.  

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Erin Lazarus

Erin Lazarus is a people science enthusiast and Industrial-Organizational Psychology leader focused on building teams that provide the opportunity for every person to work at their highest point of contribution. She leads teams to design powerful candidate and employee experiences that allow organizations to harness the power of their people. Her teams partner with business leaders using science and data to enhance people strategy in areas including employee selection, workplace assessment, organizational culture, employee engagement, performance management, succession planning, and leadership development. At SHL, Erin consults with clients to transform productivity through deeper people insight.

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