9 Square Photo Grid

Evaluation

You may be surprised to know that vast majority of plans can be reduced to one of these categories. These categories are generic organising strategies and the square is not to be taken literally when either looking for, or working with, these strategies. The 1 square refers to open plans with a single room or without any subdividing elements. The 4 square is a strategy in which four zones are organised around the periphery without a linking centralised space. The 9 square is a centralised plan with a clear central space (middle square) and peripheral zone (surrounding 8 squares). The 4 and 9 square represent a basic opposition between centralised and non-centralised plans, and as such provide you with a choice between hierarchical or non-hierarchical plan strategies. The 1 square can be treated as either, dependent on how the perimeter enclosure is defined.

These strategies are not absolutely necessary for making a good plan, but you will likely be working with one of them whether you know it or not – it’s better to know and understand their relative strengths and weaknesses. Each of these comes with their own range of possibilities as well as limitations.

The 9 square is a centralised plan with a clear central space (middle square) and peripheral zone (surrounding 8 squares). The 4 and 9 square represent a basic opposition between centralised and non-centralised plans, and as such provide you with a choice between hierarchical or non-hierarchical plan strategies.

How can these help?

Management
  • 9 Square in the Air is the best group game for groups. Churches, camps, and schools love playing the original 9 Square in the Air!
  • The 9 box grid is a well-known tool for talent management and succession planning. In this practitioner’s guide, we will explain each box in the 9 box grid, talent management action steps per category, and how this framework can be used in Excel for advanced reporting.
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When you recognise with direction in which your plan is developing you can ask yourself if the plan geometry is supporting your intentions, particularly where hierarchy is involved, or where a need for a centralised or collecting space is needed. You can also work ‘against’ the logic of the geometry in clever ways that may help your design development. For example, you may with to strengthen the different spatial characteristics of each quadrant in a 4 square scheme, so that the design does not freeze over into an overly static design. You can also ‘collapse’ or merge squares together so your plan isn’t just a diagram of a geometric strategy.

Examples:

The Leiter Building, 1878, Le Baron Jenny. A one-square schema is simply a space that places no emphasis on either the centre or periphery. In this case it is a blank slate waiting to be filled.
Brick Country House, 1924, Mies van der Rohe. This example demonstrates that a four-square scheme does not literally have to be square nor do you need to have explicit quadrants delineated. It’s important to understand that these are guiding principles and not just geometrical schemes. The four-square is evident in the left-hand part of the plan, which lacks a central space. The organisation is such that the walls push you outwards towards peripheral spaces.
Nilsson House, 1949, Ralph Erskine. This is a beautiful adaptation of a four-square scheme which exaggerates one quadrant in order to celebrate the living space. I read the four-square layout as follows – the quadrants are formed by the living room, kitchen (no.3), bedroom cluster, and master bedroom suite. Each of these areas are handled as a distinct area, peripherally organised. Note that the column grid further subdivides the living room into a four-square space, each with subtle but differing characteristics and uses. The idea of a peripherally organised scheme, oriented outwards is accentuated by the ring of exterior platforms around all four sides.

Sergius & Bacchus, 527-536AD, architects unknown. This is a typical nine-square centralised plan. In this case the surrounding ‘squares’ are transformed into a ribbon of space surrounding the central dominant space.
Villa Rotunda, c.1580, Andrea Palladio. This is a classic nine-square plan following the geometrical schema quite closely. There are subtle adjustments worth noting: the circular central space emphasizing its importance; a non-symmetrical north-south versus east-west layout; achievement of four different scales in room sizes.
Il Gesu, 1568-1580, Vignola. This example demonstrates the elasticity of the nine-square scheme. Most linearly planned churches and cathedrals are variations on this theme.

Hansaviertel Housing Unit, 1955-57, Alvar Aalto. This is a modern take on the nine-square. The fact that nine-square schemes emphasise the centre is used to make the living room the heart of this unit. The living room must be crossed to reach most of the spaces and is also extended out to the perimeter by linking it to the exterior balcony (bottom centre).
All Saints, Margaret Street, 1859, William Butterfield. In some cases four- and nine-square schemes can be combined to create complex plan solutions. The overall organisation of this plan is on an unequal bay four-square geometry. You can read this by extending the sides of the large square space in the upper left corner. The square itself is on a nine-square system articulated by the four columns in the middle of the space. This solution allowed for a centralised church plan within a non-centralised site plan shoe-horned into a tight urban site.
Villa Savoye, 1928-31, Le Corbusier. This is another four- and nine-square hybrid. There are three parallel zones from top to bottom and left to right that articulate a nine-square planning approach. However, the centre is not a space that is being emphasised. If you draw a horizontal and vertical line through the middle of the plan you can pick up on a loose four-square scheme that pushes key spaces towards the corners (living room, terrace, bedrooms and kitchen). One key invention of this nine-square scheme is that the central zone is not a space to be in, but rather, with the ramp and stair, a space to pass through.

A 9-box grid is a tool that is widely used in HR to help facilitate conversations about employee development and succession planning. Employees are mapped against two axis, typically current performance and future potential. Historically, the focus was on leadership, but the grid was quickly adapted for use with other groups of employees, such as those with specialist skills that might be critical to the business, like analysts or programmers, or sharing common characteristics, such as graduates. Nowadays, most HR systems include integrated nine-box grids that enable a more agile and inclusive approach to talent planning and development.

How does it work?

HR and managers work together to assign employees to relevant boxes on the grid based on the two categories. The x-axis represents the employees’ current overall performance, and the y-axis represents their potential, a prediction of their future performance.

9 Square Photo Grid

While the conversation needs to be informed, the process is by its nature iterative. Insight into the current performance or future potential of one employee may shift the thinking about another. Discussions about organisational objectives or the competitor landscape, could lead to different perspective on the value of current skill sets or aptitude in the future.

What are the benefits?

9 square photo grid

Encourages dialogue

9 Square Photo Grid Paper

As an HR professional, you’ll understand the difficulties of assessing employees’ performance and evaluating the health of different talent pools within your company so that you can help plan for business continuity and employee growth. How does the business go about rating your employees’ potential? How do you identify who will make a strong future leader, and do you know who is falling behind?

This is where the 9-box grid can help. It’s a simple, but visually powerful tool that serves as a framework for discussion with managers about talent and encourages important conversations that are unlikely to happen without it. It allows managers to collectively identify the strengths and weaknesses in their talent pool, whilst giving transparency over the state of the talent across the whole company, helping to remove barriers to employee movement.

Square

9 Box Grids

You get a fresh perspective

Because the process of assigning employees to different parts of the grid is collaborative, managers benefit from hearing the opinions of others, so that a more objective assessment of employees’ progress and potential can be made.
Perhaps a manager’s relationship with an employee has biased their assessment of his/her performance. Or maybe an employee demonstrated abilities their manager wasn’t aware of when collaborating on a project with a different team. Having a collection of opinions brings fresh perspectives for everyone involved, allowing for a more informed discussion.

Helps you plan for the future

The process doesn’t stop with a constructive conversation however. The real value is in how you use the information to improve succession planning and employee career development, so you can ensure the continuity and growth, and take your business to the next level.
For example, those employees identified as having high potential and high performance and showing signs of being future leaders, or future stars in their own right, will need to be nurtured so they remain challenged and rewarded. Maybe they’re the ones who will be integral to the success of an upcoming project or fill the shoes of a manager who has left.

Some of the weaker players in your cohort, or those who aren’t suited to their current role, can also be highlighted in this process. High potential but low performance employees may need motivating, perhaps by a stretch assignment, mentoring or a change in position within the company; candidates consistently assigned to the low potential and low performance box will need a different strategy. Should they be dropped from the grid altogether, and if so what are the implications for their future growth within the company?

What are the downsides?

Not everyone is a fan of the 9-box grid. There are concerns about the validity of measuring ‘potential’ as a category, many considering it to be too closely linked with ‘performance’. After all, it’s rare an employee would measure well for potential whilst their performance is poor, for instance. Because of this some organisations have replaced potential with other measures, such as agility or aptitude for change.

Some also worry that assigning employees into categories promotes employee labelling which then becomes difficult to unstick, and managers use these labels as shortcuts when discussing employees. If an employee is assigned to the bottom left corner of the grid, for example, they’re considered a weak employee, and it could be difficult for them to shake this label.

These are valid concerns of course. However, research by leadership institute, Roffey Park, suggests that these challenges can be overcome.

If managers clearly discuss and define how they will measure potential from the outset and also use the grid fluidly so that employees don’t get permanently pigeon-holed, it remains an effective tool for encouraging discussion.

When it comes to using a 9-box grid, it’s vital that HR and managers establish what they want out of the process before they start, ensure they act upon the discussion generated from the process, and don’t just use the grid for the sake of it.

Drag and drop employees to produce a real-time view of your organisation’s talent with Cezanne HR’s configurable 9-box grids

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