How The 9-Box Grid Helps Develop Talent Pools

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Performance Management

How The 9-Box Grid Helps Develop Talent Pools

A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that recruiting the best talent is still a major concern for HR professionals. More than half of HR professionals surveyed reported some level of basic skills or knowledge gaps among job applicants, and 84 percent said applicants are lacking when it comes to applied skills. Because of this, many organizations are trying to develop the talent they need internally.

Talent pools provide flexible career development

One way to do this is to create talent pools. A talent pool is a group of employees who are being developed in a particular skill or competency. By investing in high-potential employees’ skills, organizations prepare them to eventually take on greater responsibilities within the organization. Talent pools are a viable option for organizations that know they need to develop talent, but aren’t ready to commit to a formal succession planning process.

However, whenever you create talent pools you also need to create a system for measurement. It’s a logical part of the evaluation process. For example: Let’s say an organization starts to notice they aren’t attracting candidates with proven project management experience. Project management involves more than taking a single class. It’s a discipline that encompasses critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and communication. The organization can create a talent pool that will help employees develop in these areas. As they set up their talent pool, the organization should also identify a method for measuring the effectiveness of their efforts. This ensures that employee development stays relevant and delivers the expected outcome.

Help measure career development efforts

The 9-box grid is a tool used to identify current talent levels within the organization. It’s often utilized in conjunction with traditional succession planning, but it doesn’t have to be. The 9-box grid is more flexible than you realize. For instance, the 9-box grid can be used for performance management. It’s flexibility with performance management and talent planning makes it an ideal tool to use with talent pools.

Enhance your talent pools

The 9-box grid can be used to identify trends and anomalies that can then be addressed by company leaders. To get started, stakeholders should reach a consensus on the knowledge and skills that are required for each box on the grid. Not only is this necessary for using the 9-Box Grid, but it can help identify the current skills that the organization is developing well and the future ones they might need to add to their existing development programs.


A group of employees who are located in the same box might indicate a trend that needs monitoring or the need for additional development within the talent pool. If we use the project management example above, it’s possible that the 9-box grid could indicate a need for collaboration skills. This becomes an opportunity to develop the individual members of the talent pool together. It benefits the individuals because they can learn from each other, and it benefits the organization because they can scale their training efforts to consolidate resources.


A group of employees in the same box sends a message; A single employee in a box sends another. Look for anomalies that can be addressed on an individual basis. When there’s an employee that is alone in one of the boxes, ask two things:

Why? Is their development plan different than others?

Can they benefit from coaching and/or mentoring – either by being coached/mentored or doing the coaching/mentoring?

An individual employee alone in one of the 9-boxes isn’t cause for alarm; It’s a reason to investigate. The organization needs to identify what makes the situation different. It could lead to valuable goal-setting and career path insights that can be shared throughout the organization.

Support individuals and teams

The most effective employee development efforts include both group and individual development activities. Talent pools offer the flexibility to do both without sacrificing succession planning efforts.

Adding the 9-box grid to monitor the effectiveness of talent pools can help organizations stay on top of their talent goals. It also allows HR to regularly refine their career development activities so employee groups gain the skills they need for the future.

Modern-day career development is a combination of individual and group activities implemented in the most flexible, effective way possible. Talent pools and 9-box grids help the organization stay current with the fluctuating needs of their business.

9-Box Primer for Smart HR Pros

Understand the ying/yang relationship between performance and potential.

Watch Video

9-Box Primer for Smart HR Pros

Understand the ying/yang relationship between performance and potential.

Watch Video

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