How to Use a Nine-Box Grid

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A nine-box grid helps HR make cost-effective hiring and training decisions.
A nine-box grid helps HR make cost-effective hiring and training decisions. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

The more you understand about an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, the better you can use his talents to your best advantage. A nine-box grid allows you to record specific information about an employee’s performance, skill-development level or other evaluation criteria according to where it falls on a three-point rating scale, such as low, medium or high. Although a nine-box grid only displays information, the variety of ways you can use the grid is what makes this such a useful tool.

Recruitment and Selection

Use a nine-box grid template to create accurate job postings or advertisements, to weed out unqualified applications and to evaluate each person you interview. Identify core competency requirements in the first row of the grid; instead of a ratings scale, include required skills, optional skills and soft skill identification labels for the next three columns. Fill in skills requirements information to complete the grid and use it to evaluate incoming applications. You can also compare interview results, including test scores and observations, to grid criteria to both select the right candidate and reduce training costs.

Performance Evaluations

A nine-box grid is useful for turning subjective competencies and observations into objective, measurable goals. For example, including specific, objective grid criteria, such as percent of on-time deliverables and days absent from work, to a subjective competency such as “reliability” makes a performance evaluation much more accurate. In addition, visually representing data on a nine-box grid makes it easier to link competency expectations to actual employee performance, which makes conducting objective performance evaluations much easier.

Training and Development

Use a nine-box grid to identify training needs and create cost-effective training and development programs. The grid is useful for pinpointing gaps between required competencies and an employee’s current skill level. A nine-box grid that ranks skill level from low to high can help you decide whether formal training or mentoring is more appropriate. For example, performance data that show an employee has poor computer skills or a high percentage of customer complaints might tell you the employee needs formal computer training and mentoring to improve customer service skills.

Succession Planning

The goal of succession planning is to name, train and prepare a successor to transition into a management position without disrupting the department. Comparing required competencies to those an employee currently has via a nine-box grid is an objective way to identify and choose a successor. Once you’ve chosen a successor, a nine-box grid can help you create a training program that addresses specific training and development needs.

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