Think Tank: Managing the talent pool

Think Tank: Managing the talent pool

A high performing team is made up of more than just star performers

The 9-box grid

The 9-box grid

Think of talent management and we immediately think of managing bright, high potential employees. But although ‘star talent’ individuals are important in any business, just managing stars is not enough. A high performing team means managers must understand the performance and contribution from all the team and manage the talent pool.

Often, talent management is the missing ingredient from many IT strategies. While great emphasis is given to obtaining hot technical skills, managing existing talent appears to be forgotten.

Many approaches to strengthening leadership capabilities focus on individual ‘stars’ rather than the whole leadership bench. Leaders drive results and if there are gaps in their ability, performance suffers. If the gaps are known, development plans can be created.

I came across two management tools: The ‘Career Crossroads model’ and the ‘9-box grid’. I found the tools useful with the challenge of managing leadership talent. Career Crossroads also helps guide the long-term career development of individuals in the context of the organisation’s needs.

Career crossroads model

As an individual progresses though careers, he or she progresses through several natural crossroads. Usually the individual will advance from ‘managing oneself’ to ‘managing others’, then ‘managing functions’, to ‘managing business’ and so on. Each crossroad requires different skills and job experience.

Technical skills, for example, are required to manage oneself while profit and loss (P&L) management and business strategy skills are needed to manage a business. Individuals step into a new role, grow in that role and become ready for the next career crossroad.

In good organisation practice, there is no instant move from one level to another at a much higher level, such as moving from managing oneself to becoming a functional manager. Each crossroad is also called a ‘turn’ opportunity.

Read more about IT leaders in CIO Australia’s Management category.

Performance and potential

Good potential leads to good performance. Potential is not an absolute measure, however. Potential is a combination of demonstrated capabilities, ambition or motivation (to take on the challenges at the new crossroads level) and alignment with the organisation’s needs in terms of career progression. The Career Crossroads model helps assess potential based on prior performance. When an individual does not have all three aspects of potential, performance suffers.


Effective performance judgement needs a clear and complete job definition. It must define what is required to be successful in the role as well as what customers, shareholders, the team and colleagues require. Exceptional performance meets performance criteria in many job dimensions, while full performance meets performance criteria in all job dimensions.

It’s important to note that this is a simplified example; in reality complications such as exceeding some dimensions and not meeting others can arise. Exceptional performers need to be given larger jobs otherwise they will leave and find challenges elsewhere. Developing performers on the other hand, need more time in the role and need help to improve their performance.

Levels of potential

There are three levels of potential: Turn, Growth and Mastery.

1. Turn Potential — The ability and desire to move to a job at a higher level on the Career Crossroads model.

2. Growth Potential — The ability and desire to move to a bigger or more complex job on the same level.

3. Mastery potential — The ability and desire to balance current and changing job requirements and deepen experience and specialisation on the same current level.

The 9-box grid

The 9-box potential performance grid provides an easy way to plot leadership talent in the organisation on a single page. It’s a great way to create an open dialogue among a leadership team. Open discussions and multiple perspectives allow better calibration of ratings and expectations and a shared ownership of the organisation’s talent pool. It’s a great way to identify development needs and succession planning opportunities.

The grid is used in two ways: To plan individual career development and to plan and manage the talent pool in the organisation. A development action is associated with each of the nine boxes:

  1. Ready for a move to the next level within the next 12 months.
  2. Move to a larger role on the same level within 12-24 months.
  3. Coach and develop to be exceptional performer.
  4. Leverage mastery for the benefit of the organisation. Reward and recognise. Use their help to develop high performers.
  5. Manage or coach to improve performance.
  6. These can be employees who have moved to a new level. Coach and develop to continue to have a turn potential.
  7. Develop to become exceptional performers.
  8. Assess the reasons for lack of performance. Coach or develop to become fully performing.
  9. As above or move out in the next 12 months.

Effective organisations have a mix of people in all the boxes. Many organisations only focus on the top talent (boxes one to three), forgetting the needs of the people in other boxes. Employees in boxes four, five and seven are valuable employees who can have deep expertise in their areas. The challenge is to keep the skills of these employees up-to-date as business and technology changes. Over time, market forces and change push the performance levels up, so staff need to keep up to maintain full performance. Managers ought to help employees improve performance as well as try to lift the growth potential of the team.

The ideal talent mix

Different business situations demand different mixes of talent.

Start-up — An organisation in the start-up or high growth phases needs to have a much higher proportion of high potential individuals than one in the mature stages. Start-ups require a high number of ready to grow employees and leaders as well as seasoned professionals.

Growing business — A growing business needs a high proportion of exceptional performers and a pipeline of talent to move to the next crossroad levels as the business grows and new opportunities emerge.

Consolidation — A business in a consolidation mode would not have many opportunities for people to take on larger jobs. Hence, it requires lower numbers in boxes one, two and three. There may be more people in boxes eight and nine as it tries to do more with less and raise the bar.

Normal business — In a normal business, there would be smaller proportion of high performers and low performers with the middle performers and mid potential staff in higher numbers.

The 9-box model helps identify the category of the employee and tailor appropriate development plans. When there is a shortage of talent, it is even more important to use the model to optimise performance and help employees grow within the organisation. What I like about the model is that it also recognises the important role played by the ‘solid’ performers who keep the organisation performing every day.

Hemant Kogekar is the principal of Kogekar Consulting. He has previously held CIO/IT director positions with Suncorp, Citigroup and Franklins. Contact him at

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Tags performance managementskillspeople managementtalent management9-box gridperformance potential

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