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Passion – A New High-Potential Axis

The 9-Box Grid Matrix has helped organizations categorize and visualize talents in an objective and orderly manner allowing talent identification to be done quicker. Plotting employee’s against this matrix allows organizations to quickly see where their high potentials and high performers are to not miss taking actions on them. However, whilst this model has served organizations well for long, it misses out an important dimension of talent, passion. Here we look at using the traditional 9-Box Grid Matrix and explore a new version factoring in passion.

Although the HiPos are tricky to find, a scientific study has suggested that developing and investing in them will maximize the company’s return of income. So, finding and retaining HiPos is the first step towards the company’s success. Researchers from Harvard have asserted that companies with proper processes in place will recognize 3% to 5% of their employees as high potential individuals who perform assigned tasks beyond expectations.

So, how can HiPo’s be distinguished within a company? Using a tool visually like the Nine-Box Grid is an active matrix in identifying employees who are exemplary workers and have high potential.

Click here to download free Ultimate Guide to HIPO Identification

Key Insights:

  • What is a 9-box grid?
  • Challenges in the 9-box approach
  • Passion into the mix


The 9-Box Grid is a particular evaluation method commonly used by organizations to assess their pool of talents. The employees’ assessment will be centered on high performance and high potential.

As the 9-Box Grid matrix proposes, the x-axis is the model for ‘performance,’ which signifies the employee’s work. The y-axis is the model for ‘potential’ and signifies the employee’s skills and behavior.

Through the above-mentioned assessment criteria, leaders and managers will identify and determine where each employee fits in the Nine-Box Grid boxes.

Understand more about the differences between High Potential and High Performing employees here.

The 9-Box Grid

The 9-Box Grid Matrix overcomes many of the commonly encountered problems during an evaluation. This includes:

  • Biases
  • Inconsistencies
  • Unreliable results


Not Contextualized

The first challenge with using a 9-box grid is that plotting people on one grid with 2 axes ignores the fact that each role is context-dependent. An individual’s performance and potential are completely dependent on their role, function, department, and circumstances, which completely differs from person to person that you plot, even if they are in the same team.  As a result of the measurements not being contextualized, comparing people on the same grid may yield inaccurate results and wrong talent decisions.

No Further Outcome

Oftentimes the process of building a 9-box grid ends with the grid being completed when it shouldn’t. A 9-box merely gives leaders a view into where people are in an organization and the next steps should be proper talent discussions, decisions, and developments. Great talent management is all about movement – moving up, around, in, out, and yet when using the 9 Box Grid, leaders often fail to generate that movement and use it more for allocation.

It can’t keep up

Not only is the process for building a complete 9-box grid time consuming and taking shortcuts leads to questionable results, it just doesn’t mirror the true pace of most organizations. Most 9-box grids built manually by HR teams seem to always be out of date by the time it is complete and leaders who want to move quickly to recruit or promote fall back to gut feel. So when leaders talk about agile business models and agile talents, yet HR does not have an agile way to build a 9-box grid, HR starts losing credibility for not keeping pace.


One of the biggest critiques of the Nine-Box Grid Matrix is the limitation of being able to only observe employees through 2 lenses, performance, and potential. While HiPo’s excel in both, they also possess a third trait that allows them to be stretched in their roles, and that is passion. Passion is the inherent motivation and drives to stay in the game for the long run. Adding a third lens, or a Z-axis, allows organizations to look at employees in terms of their work performance, the potential for leadership, and passion to grow in the company. The framework below shows us how organizations can add passion into the matrix when trying to identify HiPo’s who are in it for the long run.

As per the Deloitte report, almost 88% of employees are not happy with their job.

Here are 3 reasons why finding HiPo’s with strong passion will help your organization:

They Improve Others

Passionate HiPo’s do not only constantly strive to develop their skills, but they also take it upon themselves to help their peers improve as well. Passion, more often than not, is a sharable trait. A passionate worker creates a healthy work environment in which productivity strives. Passionate HiPo’s understand that for the organization to be successful,  many people have to do their work at a high performing level and the natural tendency for HiPo’s to lead makes them influence others.

They Go Beyond Their Job Description

Passionate HiPo’s are also more willing to work extra hours, do extra tasks, and even learn extra skills much above their set job description. Since they have a more personal interest in succeeding in the company, they tend to improve on and learn the job matters even outside work hours. Employees that genuinely love what they do can go out of their comfort zone which means doing something they are not so used to. This also benefits the company because the employee is developing new skills that can be applied to multiple roles making the employee prime for internal mobility.

They Will Stay

If your passionate HiPo’s are happy and satisfied with their job progression, career visibility, and the development environment surrounding them, they will stay with you. Companies should cherish these HiPo’s because it is not easy to identify amongst a large pool of employees those that are high performing, have high potential, are passionate, and are loyal. Long-term employees are trustworthy because they have already proven their loyalty to you. Give them enough possibilities to challenge themselves professionally and intellectually, and reap the benefits of a long-tenured HiPo.


Whilst traditionally the standard 9-box grid has served organizations well to help identify and classify employees by their performance and potential, we now need to introduce passion as a 3rd axis. It’s not only about the can do, will do of your employees but also how much they want to do it. Many companies fail to see ROI from HiPo programs because after 12-18 months of development, their HiPo’s leave. This means that despite receiving a great deal of focus from the organization, they did not have the passion for growth there. Use passion in selecting your HiPo’s and you will find that a HiPo that have a strong drive to succeed in your organization will bring great value over time. 

Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2010/06/are-you-a-high-potential

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