Enhance Your Succession Plan with the Nine-Box Grid

February 12, 2016

MOST senior managers and HR professionals are familiar with the well-known nine-box grid of succession planning. It is a way to use information, garnered from performance management forms and from objective data about promotion potential, to pinpoint categories of employees and what to do with those employees. The exhibit below illustrates a familiar version of the grid.



The axis at the top indicates present job performance. The axis to the left indicates potential for promotion—or for accepting more responsibility. Employees placed in the top left cell are called High Potentials (HiPos); employees placed at the bottom right are Poor Potentials (PoPos), otherwise known as “Deadwood.” Placement on the grid indicates what an organization should do with each group. For instance, HiPos should be the focus of most investments, since they are the future leaders of the organizations. Leaders should target PoPos for job transfers, corrective action, or even downsizing. Other cells require other actions.

But there is nothing sacred about the traditional nine-box grid. There are other ways to grid employees. For instance, “Specialized Knowledge of Value to the Organization” can be substituted for “Potential.” If that is done, employees placed at the top left are called High Professionals (HiPros)—that is, best-in-class, in-house technical experts. They may not have the potential for promotion, but their specialized knowledge of products, services, customers, or other groups may be of critical competitive importance to the organization. They should be the focus of efforts to capture and transfer knowledge. PoPros appear at the bottom right, and they have no specialized knowledge of critical competitive importance to the organization.

In the same way, other issues of importance may be placed on the left axis. For instance, “Specialized Social Relationships of Value to the Organization” can be substituted for “Potential.” If that is done, employees placed at the top left are called High Socials—that is, individuals who have special relationships with key customers, suppliers, distributors, union leaders, government regulators, and other stakeholder groups. Although they may not possess potential for promotion, they are nevertheless valuable to the organization. After all, the loss of a High Social might jeopardize relationships with stakeholder groups of great importance to an organization.

Similarly, other terms may take the place of “Potential.” Examples might include “Exemplars of Values Prized by the Organization,” “Exemplars of Ethics Prized by the Organization,” and other issues.

Creating new grids will shed new light on the categories of talent important to an organization. They will lead managers to think about the differences between these groups and how organizations might cultivate such differences in understanding talent.

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Utilizing the Nine-Box Grid to better understand your employees is one of the many ways to execute your succession plan. Develop your management skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CPLP Fellow, RODC, is President of Rothwell & Associates, Inc., a Professor at Penn State University/University Park and author of Effective Succession Planning, 5th ed. (AMACOM, 2015).


  1. avatar

    […] other hand, if you want to build a formal leadership development program that exposes high potentials and other leaders to broader organizational considerations, then a more formal program may make the most sense. In […]

  2. avatar

    Very Informative.

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