Tips for Using the 9 Box Grid In Succession Planning

When conducting succession planning projects many clients want to use the 9 box grid.  This is essentially a matrix whereby candidates are assessed on two dimensions:  1) their performance and 2) their potential.  If you are using this approach, here are a few tips which I have found to be important considerations:
Timing: Many organizations have managers fill out the 9 box grid before doing objective assessments of leadership potential or before defining what potential means.  The challenge with this is that managers end up justifying their ratings rather than objectively assessing potential.
Definition of Potential: Before you can assess potential you need to define what the term means in your business. To do this, ask yourself:  What are the key attributes that differentiate someone with potential from someone without potential?  When answering this question consider what the research says.  High potential individuals usually are smart (yes, IQ matters); they want to stay with the organization; they have emotional maturity and strategic thinking skills; and they are engaged in their job and find meaning in their work.  In addition to the research consider who has been successful in the past, your business strategy, your culture, and the jobs you are promoting people into.
Assessments:  One of the best ways to define potential is to use objective assessments which are psychologically validated.  There are lots of cost effective tools available and companies no longer need to use expensive assessment centers to do this.  My favorites are the Hogan Suite of Assessments and the Assess Product Suite.
Define Performance:  When rating performance define what data you will use to evaluate performance.  Most organization use a 360 tool and performance data.  However, you need to have some confidence in your performance management system in order for performance ratings do be a valuable source of information.  Also, it is important to be aware that past performance is not a strong predictor of future performance, according to the Conference Executive Boards extensive research on the topic.  360 data can be valuable indicators of leadership potential, however, organizations need to watch for cultural and personal biases.
Unlocking Potential:  Many organizations invest a lot of time and resources defining potential and then they do not invest adequately in unlocking and developing potential.  Remember that the whole point to this exercise is to figure out who the organization is going to invest and the best form of development for these people.  To unlock potential organizations needs to structure development assignments, support employees to build their professional network, and they need to carefully manage the promotion process so that leaders do not feel like they are set up to fail when promoted into more senior positions.