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How To Make The Nine (9) Box and Four (4) Box Work For You

You may have heard of the talent grid or the performance vs potential matrix within the Talent Management pillar of Human Resources, also referred to as “the 9 (nine) box” below. (credits to for the 9 box illustration, read more about it HERE)

But have you heard of the 4 box? This is how it looks like:

The 4 box, also known as the "will vs skill" quadrant can be easily used to assess your employee’s will and skill, and how you create an action plan to help them perform better by using the best coaching techniques suggested. As we shall explore later, the main difference between the 9 box talent grid and the 4 box skill vs will quadrant is that;

The 9 BOX is a matrix used to PLOTemployee performance against potential to have an overview of talent in Organisations,
whereas the 4 BOX is a tool used to APPLY COACHING TECHNIQUES to manage employees towards desired outcomes

With that in mind, the remaining content of this article will focus on the 4 box, and how to apply it. An employee is rarely in one quadrant all the time, but will fall into one quadrant or another depending on 2 dimensions and 4 quadrants as we will reveal below.

Will - An individual's desire to complete a particular task based on attitude, incentives to achieve results, security surrounding job, confidence in abilities, and emotions on completing the task.

Skill - An individual's capabilities based on the existing knowledge and competencies, previous experiences involving similar tasks, and natural ability.

Quadrant 1: An employee who has the desire to accomplish a task, but lacks the necessary skills to do it. Typically, this is a person who is enthusiastic, but lacks the knowledge or skills required. They are usually the "inconsistent player" within the 9 box talent grid.

Quadrant 2: An employee who has both skill and will to perform the task. This is often your superstar or "top talent" in the 9 box talent grid, an experienced professional looking for more opportunities to grow and develop.

Quadrant 3: An employee who has the skill to do the task, but not the will and motivation to complete it. This is often a skilled, experienced person who may have reached a threshold and probably needs new challenges. In the 9 box, they may belong to the "solid potential".

Quadrant 4: An employee who is missing on both the skill and will to complete the task. This may often be a person who has just started a new role, but not necessarily a task they desire. This may also be a beginner to a task who has low confidence and afraid to fall. "Talent risk" may be considered as a position for such an employee in the 9 box talent grid.

The end goal of using the 4 box, will vs skill quadrant, is to progress employees to a higher performance vs potential position in relation to the 9 box grid, which can take considerably more time. For the 4 box, however, once you have identified the quadrant for your employees, you can use the techniques to match their profiles with different coaching styles.

1. GUIDE (alternative term: Advise) - teach and train, provide guidance

Are you faced with an employee who is motivated, yet as much as they want it, they just can't seem to deliver the results? Here, we are describing your quadrant 1 (high will, low skill) member. Guiding them is the focus here. By focusing on training the skill(s) that they lack, you will increase their desires by providing them with the essential tools to improve.

Suggestions for your action plans:

1. Identify learning gaps and provide training or tools to allow them to do their job better

2. Set clear expectations and check for understanding

3. Create a safe learning environment that allows them to express themselves freely

4. Provide more frequent, constructive feedback

5. Recognise and reward success where necessary

2. DELEGATE (alternative term: Empower) - give additional responsibilities, collaborate on decisions

The high skilled, high willed employees are typically your superstars that consistently provide results and strive to do a good job. They are driven by themselves and typically for your team. If they are succeeding, you may be wondering why are we discussing about their development? I'm very sure, since they are likely your leaders of the future, you can help them to develop to the next level. Delegation will help your high performer accelerate learning. The challenges given to them will continue to ensure that they are motivated with fresh objectives, whilst instilling a sense of ownership in them.

Suggestions for your action plans:

1. Provide freedom to explore creative ideas

2. Encourage them to take on more responsibilities

3. Involve them in decision making by asking for opinions

4. Recognise and reward success where necessary

3. EXCITE (alternative term: Motivate) - encourage, praise and endorse

At the 3rd quadrant, we have the employee who has the skills to deliver (and perhaps has already delivered results in the past), but is experiencing a motivation issue evident through their performance. The key here is to try re-engaging the individual. Start by determining what excites them. This can be done simply by asking what they take the most pride in at work. Once you have determined their "hot buttons", focus on them. Whenever they deliver results, use your new understanding of them to show appreciation. You should also identify any obstacles and remove any road blocks to elevate motivation.

Suggestions for your action plans:

1. Understand what keeps them motivated

2. Identify any preferred ways to show appreciation

3. Develop internal and/or external (open recognition etc) motivations to incentivise

4. Recognise and reward success where necessary

4. DIRECT (alternative term: Instruct) - identify constrains, show and tell

For situations that involve the low skilled, low willed employee, we should be directing them by focusing on a combination of the previously discussed coaching techniques applied together. You may most probably be handling an employee who is facing challenges with their confidence level, that is preventing them from performing. Give them low risk activities to hone their skills, coupled with positive feedback to build their confidence.

Suggestions for your action plans:

1. Determine reasons for low will (could be personal reasons)

2. Diagnose reasons for low skill level (could be lack of tools?)

3. Set clear expectations and check for understanding with specific milestones

4. Support them through confidence building before introducing high risk tasks

5. Create a safe environment that encourages learning

6. Provide even more frequent feedback

7. Develop internal and external motivations to incentivise

8. Recognise and reward success where necessary


The principle of the 4 box, will vs skill quadrant, provides clear guidelines on areas to focus on and a good step towards good people management. Any manager with people responsibilities should be able to apply the quadrants and determine coaching styles that best suits their team.

However, given that the coaching techniques we choose are based on the initial quadrant assessment (to identify where their will and skills are), we need to be very aware to avoid putting them into the wrong quadrants due to inaccurate assessments through unconscious biasness. This will lead to managers applying wrong coaching methods, which can impede the progress and outcome of intended results.

Each scenario we face requires a different approach to get employees to where we want them to be. To ensure you are successful as a manager, be sure to spend time prior to those coaching sessions by applying the correct will vs skill assessment. Being prepared for discussions (where and why employees fail, what motivates them, and what options you may want to offer) will make a great difference to the lives of others.

"Train people well so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don't want to." - Sir Richard Branson

I am a huge believer in employee experiences, hope you will be one too.

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