What we need is some method to rate employees that captures the multi-dimensional nature of employee value but avoids the confusion and complexity of the 9 box. Fortunately, there is a better method that has actually been around a lot longer than 9 boxes. The psychological term for this method is “using effective group decision making methods to solve complex problems.” In the HCM world this is about creating more effective calibration talent reviews.
I am increasingly seeing companies replace 9 boxes with new forms of group calibration talent reviews. These methods bring together managers and other stakeholders to discuss workforce management decisions that require assessing the relative value of different employees, taking into account the company’s culture and business needs. This includes conversations about:
- Impact: Which employees are having a disproportionate impact on the organization’s success, and how should the company manage people differently based on the value they are providing?
- Investment: How should the company invest limited financial resources such as compensation in a manner that will maximize future workforce productivity?
- Development: How can the company most effectively support the career growth, retention and development of employees possessing the leadership potential and/or critical expertise needed to support future business goals?
Four elements are critical to making these calibration sessions work:
First, they focus on very specific topics and are clear about what they are NOT addressing. For example, the discussion of impact only focuses on performance in the current role. It does not address what compensation should be given to people nor does it rate people on potential for future roles.
Second, they use simplified assessment models where employees are placed into 3 to 5 categories aligned on a single dimension (as opposed to the 9 category, two-dimensional model of a 9 box).
Third, they provide adequate time and structure to enable effective conversation about why employees are being placed in different categories. This discussion is used to surface and address the multi-dimensional nature of employee value (e.g., “Yes this employee achieved his personal goals, but he failed to support people in other groups who needed his assistance.”).
Fourth, they leverage integrated HCM technology to ensure relevant information about employee performance, skills and career interests is appropriately included in the discussion.
The 9 box was innovative talent management method in the 90s. There is nothing inherently wrong with the 9 box, and if it works well for an organization then there may be no compelling reason to get rid of it. On the other hand, it was developed for a much different labor market with much more limited HCM technology than exists today. When it was created, emphasis was placed on driving assessment accuracy through process design and constraint. Now may be time to replace the 9 box and other complex talent ratings with assessment methods that achieve clarity and precision through rich conversation and dialogue instead of complex form design.