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How to advance your team: The Performance-Leadership Matrix, explained

Written by: GCN's Nonprofit Consulting Group
Published on: Apr 2, 2024

matrix explained Ann-H

(Image: Ann H)

As discussed elsewhere on this website, professional development is a powerful way to attract and retain talent – but it takes planning to make sure your people and your organization get the skills and attention they need.

The Performance-Leadership Matrix, pictured below, was developed by The Bridgespan Group to analyze individual leadership potential and organization-wide staff needs, especially in terms of professional development.

You can find our full explanation beneath the illustration, or download Bridgespan’s instructions and templates in PDF form.

performance-leadership matrix

The Matrix is used by plotting every individual according to two factors:

  • Their demonstrated job performance, measured along the horizontal axis.
  • Their demonstrated leadership competencies, measured along the vertical axis.

The operative word here is demonstrated – that is, how that person has actually performed, as opposed to how you think they could be performing.

Job performance should be based on how well the individual has fulfilled their assigned role. Leadership competencies, on the other hand, must be defined according to organizational values: What are the qualities that best indicate potential for taking a leadership position in your organization? Some possible examples: commitment, honesty, positivity, responsiveness, creativity, vision, intuition, empathy, confidence, team-building, or risk-taking. 

Once an individual is plotted on the Matrix, you can better see how to move them up the leadership axis. With the entire team plotted in a single graph, you can see how organizational performance and leadership are trending overall.

An overview of the common Matrix positions:

  • In the middle (marked A in the illustration), individuals are doing well and ready to be moved right, along the performance axis, and up, along the leadership axis.
  • In the bottom-right (marked B), you’ll find high performers who might not have leadership potential but are vital to the organization and need to be kept motivated.
  • In the upper left-hand corner (marked C), you’ll see untapped leadership talent – those who are valuable but underutilized. Questions to ask about them:
    • Is this person in the right job?
    • Would this person be better off in another function?
    • Could this person be in the wrong organization entirely?
  • In the upper right-hand corner (marked D), you’ll discover those ready for a broader leadership role right now. The questions for them:
    • Is there room in the organization to advance their career?
    • If not, can we keep them engaged enough in what they’re doing to hold onto them?

Note that most of your people will likely land in the middle (A) and the bottom-right (B).

Properly plotted, the Matrix enables you to identify challenges and develop goals for each individual, prepare talent for leadership positions that will open up in the future, and see where you might be able to deploy common solutions for a group of similarly-positioned people (like training through Nonprofit University, a nationally leading provider of affordable training, led by Work for Good's parent company).

Learn more about how to make professional development happen here.

The Nonprofit Consulting Group is a full-service solution provider and thought partner for nonprofits, housed by Work for Good's parent company, GCN.

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