What is it?

The McKinsey 9-Box Matrix, also known as the McKinsey Talent Assessment Grid, is a management tool used for assessing and visualizing an organization’s talent pool. It is commonly used for talent management and succession planning. The matrix consists of a 3×3 grid, with one axis representing an employee’s performance and the other representing their potential.

Here’s a breakdown of the nine boxes in the McKinsey 9-Box Matrix:

  1. Stars (High Performance, High Potential): These are employees who are high performers and have a high potential for future growth within the organization. They are considered top talents and are often earmarked for leadership roles.
  2. High Performers (High Performance, Moderate Potential): These employees are currently high performers but may have limited potential for growth beyond their current roles. They are valued for their contributions in their current positions.
  3. High Potentials (Moderate Performance, High Potential): These employees may not be top performers at present, but they have a high potential for future growth and development. Organizations often invest in their development to groom them for leadership roles.
  4. Solid Citizens (Moderate Performance, Moderate Potential): Solid citizens are steady, reliable employees who consistently perform at a moderate level. They may not be future leaders, but they are valuable contributors to the organization.
  5. Lone Wolves (High Performance, Low Potential): These employees excel in their current roles but have limited potential for advancement within the organization. They may be content in their current positions and not interested in leadership roles.
  6. Underachievers (Low Performance, High Potential): Underachievers are employees with high potential but are not currently performing at a satisfactory level. They may require additional support and development to reach their potential.
  7. Misfits (Low Performance, Moderate Potential): Misfits are employees who neither perform well nor show significant potential for growth. Organizations often need to assess whether they can improve or fit better elsewhere.
  8. Problem Children (Moderate Performance, Low Potential): These employees perform moderately but have limited potential for growth. They may require close monitoring and evaluation to determine their future within the organization.
  9. Dead Wood (Low Performance, Low Potential): Dead wood refers to employees who perform poorly and have little potential for improvement or advancement. Organizations often need to address performance issues in this category.

The McKinsey 9-Box Matrix helps organizations make informed decisions about talent development, succession planning, and resource allocation based on an individual’s current performance and future potential. It’s a valuable tool for HR professionals and managers to strategically manage their workforce.

How does it work?

Using the McKinsey 9-Box Matrix involves several steps to assess and manage talent within an organization effectively. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the process:

  1. Identify Key Criteria:
    • Before you begin using the 9-Box Matrix, it’s essential to identify the key criteria that will be used to assess employees. These criteria typically include “Performance” and “Potential.” Performance may be based on job-specific KPIs, while potential may encompass qualities like leadership skills, adaptability, and readiness for future roles.
  2. Collect Data:
    • Gather relevant data on each employee, including performance evaluations, feedback, skills assessments, and any other relevant information. Ensure that the data is accurate and up to date.
  3. Plot Employees on the Matrix:
    • Draw a 3×3 grid on a whiteboard, paper, or using software tools. Label one axis “Performance” and the other “Potential.” The performance axis usually ranges from low to high, and the potential axis ranges from low to high as well.
    • Assess each employee’s performance and potential based on the identified criteria. Plot each employee’s position on the matrix by placing their name or a marker within the appropriate box.
  4. Discuss and Review:
    • Hold a meeting or a series of discussions involving HR professionals, managers, and other relevant stakeholders. Review the placement of each employee on the matrix. This step is crucial for gaining consensus and different perspectives on an employee’s performance and potential.
  5. Define Action Plans:
    • Based on the position of each employee in the matrix, develop specific action plans. These plans should outline how to manage and develop talent within the organization. Actions may include training, mentoring, promotions, lateral moves, or performance improvement plans.
  6. Allocate Resources:
    • Determine the allocation of resources for talent development based on the matrix. For example, high-performing, high-potential employees (Stars) may receive priority in leadership development programs or special projects. Conversely, employees in the lower categories may receive coaching or performance improvement resources.
  7. Regularly Review and Update:
    • The 9-Box Matrix is not a static tool; it should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in employee performance and potential. This might be done annually, quarterly, or on another schedule that aligns with the organization’s needs.
  8. Implement Talent Development Initiatives:
    • Put the action plans into practice by implementing talent development initiatives. Monitor progress and adjust strategies as needed to ensure that employees are moving towards their potential.
  9. Evaluate Results:
    • Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of your talent management efforts. Are employees developing as expected? Are there any changes in performance and potential that warrant adjustments to their positions on the matrix?
  10. Iterate and Refine:
    • Based on ongoing evaluations and feedback, refine your talent management strategies. Make adjustments to the 9-Box Matrix as necessary to ensure that it remains a relevant and useful tool for talent assessment and development.

By following these steps, organizations can use the McKinsey 9-Box Matrix as a dynamic tool for talent management, helping them identify and nurture high-potential employees, address performance issues, and strategically plan for the future of their workforce.


Let’s use a chocolate shop called “Choc-Box” to illustrate this model:

Performance Dimension (Horizontal Axis):

  • Low Performance: This represents employees or aspects of the shop that are not performing well. For Choc-Box, this could be a kitchen staff member who consistently makes mistakes or a menu item that receives poor reviews due to its taste or quality.
  • Moderate Performance: In this category, we have individuals or elements that are doing an average job but have room for improvement. An example for Choc-Box might be a server who provides satisfactory service but doesn’t go above and beyond for customers.
  • High Performance: This category includes top-performing employees or aspects of the shop that consistently exceed expectations. For Choc-Box, it could be a chef who consistently creates innovative and delicious chocolate recipes that draw customers from afar or a waitstaff member who receives rave reviews for their exceptional service.

Potential Dimension (Vertical Axis):

  • Low Potential: Employees or aspects with limited growth or development prospects fall into this category. For Choc-Box, it might refer to a kitchen helper who shows little interest in advancing their culinary skills or a menu item that has limited appeal and is unlikely to become a customer favorite.
  • Moderate Potential: This category includes individuals or elements with the potential for growth and improvement but may not be the shop’s future stars. For Choc-Box, it could be a new hire server who is enthusiastic but needs more experience to reach their full potential.
  • High Potential: These are the individuals or elements that show the most promise for growth and development. For Choc-Box, it could be a young chef who demonstrates exceptional culinary skills and creativity or a new menu item that has received positive feedback and has the potential to become a signature dish.

Now, let’s map some hypothetical positions or aspects of Choc-Box on the McKinsey 9-Box Matrix:

  1. Low Performance, Low Potential: An underperforming kitchen helper who shows no interest in improving their skills.
  2. Moderate Performance, Low Potential: A server who does an okay job but hasn’t shown significant growth potential.
  3. High Performance, Low Potential: A long-time chef who consistently makes delicious chocolates but is resistant to trying new recipes or techniques.
  4. Low Performance, Moderate Potential: A new hire server who is eager to learn and improve but currently lacks experience.
  5. Moderate Performance, Moderate Potential: The majority of the waitstaff, who provide satisfactory service and have room for growth.
  6. High Performance, Moderate Potential: An experienced chef who consistently delivers high-quality chocolates and shows an interest in experimenting with new flavors.
  7. Low Performance, High Potential: A kitchen helper who has shown a strong interest in learning and improving their culinary skills.
  8. Moderate Performance, High Potential: A young chef with creativity and culinary talent, but who still needs more experience to reach their full potential.
  9. High Performance, High Potential: The star chef at Choc-Box, known for creating innovative and delicious chocolates that draw customers from all over.

Using the McKinsey 9-Box Matrix in this way can help Choc-Box’s management team make informed decisions about talent development, succession planning, and performance management, ensuring that they nurture and retain their top performers while helping others reach their full potential.