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It's time to redefine talent management

Great succession planning means knowing your talent. For more than 50 years, for many organisations, that has meant using the 9-box grid. It’s a talent management tool that has stood the test of time. If you work in HR, it’s probably very familiar to you and if you don’t, very simply, it’s a way of categorising talent according to their potential and performance. It puts talent into one of nine boxes ranging from underperformers and inconsistent players to key players and star players. And therein lies its main weakness - it puts people in boxes.

In many organisations, succession planning involves managers and HR professionals spending a lot of time deciding which box people should be put into. At the end of the process, you often find a high proportion of talent in the top right corner of the grid, the high performance and high potential box. However, people often question whether this is accurate. Not only that but, once assigned to a box, there is a danger that employees get stuck there. This is because the 9-box model does not emphasise the dynamic nature of employee performance and development.

Instead, we think it’s time to focus on the concept of a journey instead of boxes. Moving talent through different developmental stages.

From nine boxes to four stages - a new talent management tool.

The four stages that we believe better represent the journey of talent development are:

  1. Sustain – people at this stage are highly engaged and enjoy their job. They still enjoy stretching themselves, but much of their learning is within the job. They are in their career sweet spot.

  2. Support – these people may be a little frustrated and have lower engagement. There is a mismatch between their aspirations and what the organisation needs. Under-performance could be an issue too.

  3. Stretch – having become adept in their field, these people are in their comfort zone and performing well. They are busy, but not stretched intellectually. They may not have a clearly defined career progression plan.

  4. Shift – these people are characterised by high performance and have the potential to do more. They have high aspirations and you can see how their skills fit into the organisational goals too.

We’ll all go through these development stages at some point in our careers. The key is to help people move out of the ‘support’ phase and into the ‘sustain’ phase. In this way, we ensure employees stay engaged and work to their strengths.

Four stages instead of nine boxes make it much easier for managers to identify an employee’s current stage and have a worthwhile development conversation.

We think this talent journey model emphasises the dynamic nature of employee performance and motivation. It is also easier for employees to accept that they may not be in the ready-to-be-promoted category right now. It also makes it easier to have a conversation about someone who is currently not at their best.

Fundamentally, our model is not about putting people in boxes. Instead, we are recognising their place in their career journey. Most employees, including high performers, can occasionally find themselves in a situation where things don’t work for them, either because they are stuck in their careers, or they are in the wrong role. With a career journey model, the focus is on the action we want to take rather than the box that the person is placed into.

This new journey-style definition of talent management could help to transform succession planning. Find out how in our new succession planning handbook It’s free to download.

Tell us what you think. Does the 9-box model still have legs, or does our four-stage journey offer a fresh perspective? Or maybe you even have a talent management definition of your own to share - we’d love to hear about it.


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