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Can We Really Coach People to Better Performance and Potential?

MountainBeing able to perform at our best today but having the scope to achieve more in the future is the goal of most individuals in both a personal and a work environment. These same two factors – or “performance” and “potential” are therefore often used by organizational leaders to assess how well individuals are doing and then where training or coaching may be helpful to help them to improve. For management overview purposes this is often represented by a Performance and Potential Grid, or Matrix with 3 stages on both axes (low, medium and high). A simplified version of this nine-box grid is shown below:


Charts such as the one above typically have 9 boxes that are numbered; 1 (top right) represents those individuals whose performance and potential is seen as most optimal, with then progressively higher numbers in each box representing various contributions down to number 9 (bottom left) representing the organization’s lowest performance and potential people. In using such a chart most of the focus is generally given to people in boxes 1, 2 and 3 who often receive more coaching and training and (naturally enough) are the most likely people to be promoted when the opportunity occurs. Ironically perhaps, far less attention, time and resources are spent on people in boxes 4-9, perhaps in the belief that they will “sink or swim” on their own or because this may represent a large population and the training and coaching dollars may not go very far as a result.

Using the Performance and Potential Grid for Coaching

Despite the bias towards people deemed to be in the top 3 boxes, the Performance and Potential Grid is actually a very useful tool for considering possible coaching interventions for all individuals in the boxes on the chart. This is particularly true when we create simple labels for each of the nine categories as shown in the example below. This then affords the opportunity to describe both the likely behavior in each of the nine boxes and the broad coaching approach that is likely to be most needed to be successful. A full description on how this chart can be used is provided in the separate article here:


Potential Problems in Using the Performance and Potential Grid

Although the above chart is generally useful it may only go so far when it comes to particular individuals and we therefore need a more granular approach to help assess where an individual is today and where he or she should focus their time and attention tomorrow. In addition, we need a methodology to help to assess performance strengths and development needs as well as areas of focus that may help build potential. While there are many assessments that could be used for this purpose, one that covers both performance and potential factors and measures many individual traits is likely to be most useful. For this reason, we have used the Harrison Assessment (see as a sound instrument for this purpose.

175 individual traits are measured the Harrison assessment but not all of these are applicable. In the table below are perhaps some of the traits that are appropriate to measure on both the performance and potential side.

Potential vs. Performance using the Harrison Assessment Traits

Potential Performance
Essential and important-to-success traits include:


Takes Initiative










Receives Correction






Essential and important-to-success traits include:





Stress Management

Pressure Tolerance


Analyzes Pitfalls







Enlists Cooperation

Judgment (Strategic)

Wants Challenge

Traits-to-avoid (potential de-railers):


Fast, but imprecise

Precise, but low


Laser Logical

Rigidly Organized





Traits-to-avoid (performance de-railers):






Blindly Optimistic



Defers Decisions


Notice that the above chart include so-called “de-railers” in the Harrison Assessment’s language and system, or traits which are likely to actively lessen people’s performance and/or potential.

What do these traits mean?

For a coach then, the more we can help people focus on traits that appear above, and according to whether their need is on the performance or potential side (or both) the better. To therefore help to understand what these traits mean as far as the Harrison assessment is concerned, the table below should be helpful.

Analytical The tendency to logically examine facts and situations (not necessarily analytical ability)
Analyzes Pitfalls The tendency to scrutinize potential difficulties related to a plan or strategy
Assertive The tendency to put forward personal wants and needs
Authoritative The desire for decision-making authority and the willingness to accept decision-making responsibility
Authoritative Collaboration The tendency to take responsibility for decisions while at the same time allowing others to genuinely participate in the decision-making process
Avoids Communication The tendency to lack frankness as well as diplomacy
Blindly Optimistic The tendency to focus on the possible benefits of a plan or strategy, while failing to adequately see the potential difficulties
Cautious The tendency to focus on potential pitfalls of a plan or strategy while being very careful about risks
Certain The tendency to feel confident in one’s opinions
Collaborative The tendency to collaborate with others when making decisions
Defensive The tendency to focus on self-acceptance while avoiding self-improvement (The attitude “I’m O.K. and I don’t need to improve”)
Defers Decisions The tendency to avoid making decisions by referring them to others
Diplomatic The tendency to state things in a tactful manner
Dogmatic The tendency to be certain of one’s own opinions while at the same time not open to different ideas
Dominating The tendency to be assertive with one’s own needs while failing to respond to other people’s needs
Enforcing The tendency to insist upon necessary rules being followed
Enlists Cooperation The tendency to invite others to participate in or join an effort
Evasive The tendency to be tactful without being sufficiently direct
Experimenting The tendency to try new things and new ways of doing things
Fast But Imprecise The tendency to be productive but not paying sufficient attention to detail
Flexible The tendency to easily adapt to change
Frank The tendency to be straightforward, direct, to the point, and forthright
Helpful The tendency to respond to others’ needs and assist or support others to achieve their goals
Impulsive The tendency to take risks without sufficient analysis of the potential difficulties
Influencing The tendency to try to persuade others
Intuitive The tendency to use hunches to help make decisions (not necessarily intuitive capabilities)
Judgment (strategic) The tendency to have a balance of traits necessary to discern pertinent information, and formulate an effective strategy
Laser Logical The tendency to be very analytical while at the same time mistrusting intuition
Non-finishing The tendency to experiment with many different things without persisting in a single direction
Open / reflective The tendency to reflect on many different viewpoints
Optimistic The tendency to believe the future will be positive
Organized The tendency to place and maintain order in an environment or situation
Permissive The tendency to be overly empathetic, failing to enforce necessary rules or make necessary corrections to subordinates’ behavior
Persistent The tendency to be tenacious despite encountering significant obstacles
Precise The enjoyment of work that requires being exact and the tendency to be detail oriented
Precise But Slow The tendency to be exact but not paying sufficient attention to productivity
Pressure Tolerance The level of comfort related to working under deadlines and busy schedules
Receives Correction The tendency to accept guidance intended to improve performance
Rigidly Organized The tendency to focus so strongly on being orderly that one tends to have difficulty adapting to changes
Risking The tendency to feel comfortable with business ventures that involve uncertainty
Scattered The tendency to be disorganized while at the same time enjoying and pursuing change
Self-acceptance The tendency to like oneself (“I’m O.K. the way I am”)
Self-critical Disliking oneself in the context of self-improvement
Self-improvement The tendency to attempt to develop or better oneself
Self-motivated The drive to achieve including taking initiative, wanting challenge, and being enthusiastic about goals

Although this is a long list of traits, it does provide a very useful guide to which traits that we are likely to want to concentrate on most when coaching or training a given individual to move in a position direction on the Performance and Potential Grid. By taking the Harrison assessment a person would have a full list of his or her trait scores (across all 175 of them) and it is then straightforward to look at then which of these is in most need of development (for example traits that might be at a 3, 4 or 5 out of 10 for example). If these particular traits then appear on the above performance or potential side of the table a conversation can take place about what development might therefore be most useful (with the Harrison Assessment report providing some very useful suggestions for development that can be adopted or modified to suit).


In this brief article, we have suggested that the familiar and popular 9-Box, or Performance and Potential Grid is an effective tool to use in making broadly-based coaching interventions. However, these interventions can be greatly enhanced by the use of a rich, trait-based assessment that can help identify strengths and development needs on both the performance and potential sides of the equation. The Harrison Assessment is such an assessment and can be used to measure each individual and create a well-crafted individual development plan to move from lower levels of the 9-Box to higher levels, increasing both their own, individual competency set as well as their value to the organization.


For more information about the Harrison Assessment or for a free demo, contact Anne Sandberg at


Jon Warner and Anne Sandberg, February 2017


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About Dr. Jon Warner

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

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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