Want to be a better Coach: Use a Performance and Potential Grid to Guide your Coaching

The Performance and Potential Grid, or Matrix, is a well-known and useful model which has been used for the past twenty years to help determine an individual’s organisational contribution. A simplified version of this nine-box grid is shown below:

Charts like the one above are commonly used and they all have a simple numbering system, such as that shown on the above chart. Typically, the “1” at the top right represents those individuals whose performance and potential is seen as optimal, with progressively higher numbers in each box representing various contributions down to number “9” at the bottom left, representing the organisation’s “extra work required people.”

The Performance and Potential Grid applied to coaching is an excellent mechanism for considering possible interventions for each type of individual in the boxes on the chart.

As an example of this approach, in the grid below, each of the nine boxes has been assigned a label and some broad and general descriptors of likely behaviour have been added:

A range of applicable coaching interventions are then listed in the same grid in the chart below:

As we can see, this already creates a useful “at-a-glance” summary that can be used by internal and external coach as appropriate.

Issues arising from the Performance and Potential Grid when used in Coaching

When looking for the next generation of leaders the tendency to focus on the top 3 boxes on the grid is relatively logical. However, in seeking to lift overall performance of the organisation (or ministry), the grid can be used quite differently to achieve higher levels of success as discussed below:

Boxes 1, 2 and 3 individuals

Clearly, all individuals that are assigned to or reside in these boxes are generally well-regarded and worthy of some coaching attention. For “contributors” in box 3, the main focus is on helping the individual to become as ready as possible for the next development step.  For “emergers” in box 2, the main focus is on helping an individual to lift performance to the best possible levels in their current situation. Finally, for the “stars” in box 1, the focus is on how to maintain their attention and to ensure that these individuals stay motivated.

Not surprisingly, all individuals in these 3 boxes are usually popular or attractive people to coach, as they are (in broad terms) looking at the future positively and seeking to find ways to enrich their contribution. However, even though such people may attract as much as 80-90% of the internal and external coaching effort, we also need to pay close attention to individuals in the “bottom six” part of the grid (who may collectively make up 70-80% of the organisations population).

Box 4 individuals – “workers”

People in this “worker” box often operate “below the radar” because they are likely to be working hard and achieving better than acceptable results most of the time. However, in many cases this can disguise underlying possible problems for the organisation such as low levels of delegation and teamwork, an overly individualistic task focus and perhaps an unhelpful willingness to tell people what they are doing and why. This can lead to little time spent building the skills and experience of others, which can be a big problem if a person in this box is a leader.

From a coaching perspective, it is important with individuals in this box to assess the contribution they are making to the medium to longer-term strength of the organisation. This will either be by transferring knowledge more openly to others or by taking on a more “nurturing role” for others in the team and using more opportunities to delegate, for instance.

Box 5 individuals – “latents”

At the other corner of the grid in box 5, “latent” individuals are often far more visible or “known” in the organisation because they are likely to have demonstrated high potential earlier in their ministry and continue to show “flashes” of even higher potential in their current situation. However, future capacity to contribute is not an excuse not to look closely at current performance and contribution. Coaching is therefore critical here because we can ensure that any continued lack of confidence or competence in getting the present job done well is properly highlighted and managed, before the individual seeks to press to move on to the next role.

From a coaching perspective, individuals in this box will benefit from coaching which allows them to gain helpful performance knowledge for their present role (to help build up confidence and experience) and to learn some of the major contributors to better current performance. This will potentially include task prioritisation skills, greater organisational ability and tools and project management capability, for instance.  Help with building partnerships and networking with others at peer level may also be helpful with this group.

Box 6 individuals – “transitionals”

“Transitional” people are different to all others in the Performance and Potential Grid because they may be capable of moving into any of the other boxes on the grid quite quickly. Some people in this box may therefore be “on the way in” and some might be “on the way out” – time will tell. However, whether it is in or out, what all people in this box share in common is that they have to prove themselves in both performance and potential in the eyes of others.

Because as many as 25-30% of leaders reside in box 6 of the grid, coaching interventions are critical here for two main reasons. Firstly, individuals may need direct and on-going help to move forwards (planning, organising, communicating more effectively, etc.). Secondly, individuals may easily start to slip backwards if they are not coached (which may quickly be felt as a competence shortfall by others). Even the box 6 individuals themselves may start to feel unappreciated and overlooked. Being such a large population, we therefore often need to give people in this group more coaching time than they are typically getting.

Box 7 individuals – “blockers”

Although people in several of the grid positions can block the progress of others, individuals in box 7 are more likely to be the obvious blockers simply because they have low or even no potential to move and are making only a basic or minimal contribution. Like box 4 individuals, blockers consequently often operate under the “radar” and may only become visible if and when a higher performing individual working with them criticises the individual concerned.

From a coaching perspective, intervention here is critical because we need to ensure that we do not have any immediate “at risk” issues as a result of these people’s contribution shortfalls. In addition, we also need to take the time to properly assess whether or not we could readily get a more effective contribution in the job, if performance is not improved. In actual fact, experience tells us that these individuals will often respond well to coaching, especially if it brings new ideas or helps to open up options for the target people that they have not previously considered.

Box 8 individuals – “placeholders”

Placeholders are usually those people who have more capacity and ability to contribute but find themselves doing the minimum possible when it comes to performance and results. Individuals in this box are often highly intelligent but may see their work to be repetitive or not challenging enough. They may also see themselves as merely “passing through” and therefore fail to hold either themselves or others accountable for getting things done efficiently and effectively.

From a coaching perspective, once again this box might include a large population of people on the overall grid, and thereby offer many opportunities and scope for improvement in areas such as tempo of work, more “stretching” goals and greater teamwork, for example.

Box 9 individuals – “detractors”

Obviously, box 9 individuals can be problematic, having both low potential and a low performance or results contribution. However, the typical first response is a performance management intervention, when coaching may be a better first step.

Many individuals in this box, who end up leaving, often say that they could have turned  around and even had greater potential to reach higher levels if they could have had coaching to help in areas of high personal frustration or need (such as conflict handling or developing greater listening skills, for instance). Obviously this is a decision for the organisation to make in terms of how much time and effort it wants to spend with its “box 9s,” but once again experience tells us that even a small amount of coaching is likely to pay good dividends.


In this brief article, we have suggested that the familiar and popular Performance and Potential Grid, used mainly for leadership development and succession planning purposes, is also an excellent tool to use in making balanced coaching interventions. Used in this way, rather than to focus on our box 1, 2, and 3 individuals most of the time, we are well-served to pay as much attention to the large proportion of the population who are likely to reside in the other six boxes on the grid (being perhaps as much as 80% of the population).

The chart below offers a final visual summary with some further coaching comments for those people not in the top 3 boxes on the chart:

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at



Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has 30 years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at



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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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