The 9 box model explained

The nine box model exists in most companies. Some have twelve, some have sixteen. Because they’re greedy. You may not know it, but each year you’re being evaluated and put in to a box on a grid. And each box has a definition. Here’s what they say. And what they really mean:

What it’s called:  Enigma

What they say: Individuals with high potential but low performers. They are either wrongly placed or could be working under the wrong supervisors who have not been able to tap their potential. They are totally wasted in an organisation. To help them perform, external intervention is required and open communication and feedback between employees and supervisors might be able to yield good results.

What they mean: We’ve screwed up. So it’s time to outsource the problem. Thankfully there are suckers out there to help us. Coaching anyone?


What it’s called: Dilemma

What they say: Individual with average potential but low performance levels. The reasons for this are many but to boost their performance, motivation, inspiration and encouragement, proper opportunities and communication can certainly yield the desired results.

What they mean: Can’t they get a new job? Have a mid-life crisis? Fall down a ditch? Get me the hit men. Or a training course.


What it’s called: Under Performer

What they say: Individuals with low potential coupled with low performance levels. Management provides them time to prove themselves but if they still continue to under perform and to not show scope of improvement, they may be asked to leave the organisation.

What they mean: Pond life. Call the undertakers.


What it’s called: Growth Employees

What they say: This category has people who show high potential but do not perform up to the mark. Upon motivating, providing challenges, opportunities, and words of encouragement, such employees deliver at a higher level, move forward and often turn into valuable assets for an organization

What they mean: Lazy bas***ds. Bring the bull whip. And the caffeine shots. For the eyeballs….


What it’s called: Core Employees

What they say: Just like dilemma category, these individuals have high potential levels and are average performers but can be very promising. They need to be constantly challenged and pushed into giving their best.

What they mean: Cannon fodder. Thank you.


What it’s called: Effective

What they say: Individuals with high performance levels but low potential. Such employees have reached their full career potential and need to be engaged and motivated to keep going.

What they mean: Dumb cannon fodder. We don’t even need to thank you.


What it’s called: Future Leaders

What they say: Best possible options for succession at senior positions. They score highest on performance and leadership skills. Such employees should be motivated, rewarded for their efforts, promoted and trusted with more roles and responsibilities.

What they mean: Suck-ups. Of the highest order. Avoid at all costs. Or put on an expensive management course to distract.


What it’s called: High-impact Performers

What they say: By grooming and motivating, such employees can become future leaders.

What they mean: Deploy mushroom management, these are the enemy my friends. Treat with contempt and caution in equal measure.


What it’s called: Trusted Professionals

What they say: People score much higher than the potential because of their capabilities and talent. Such employees should be rewarded and recognized and their capabilities should be used to mentor other upcoming talent in an organization.

What they mean: These guys run the business. At no cost let them know it. Keep them thinking that they’re on the way out and less valuable than you know they are.


Notes: Thanks to Wikipedia for the original definitions. The comments here are for fun only, we recognise and understand that the talent review process is actually a highly scientific and complex affair that warrants no humour whatsoever.


  1. Claire Sheehan · October 26, 2014

    I’ve not come across this before but immediately I can see how this is in all the companies I visit! Certain employees definately spring to mind!

    Great post which I’ll highlight to my clients.

    Thanks Neil

  2. Pingback: HR can’t manage talent | change-effect

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