Talent Management

The 5 Attributes of High-Performing Employees

9781609949686ExecutionStrategy

Adding a new person to your workplace team is always a gamble.

Usually you can’t tell by looking who will consistently deliver top-notch performances that make the entire team shine — as opposed to who will just show up and do an average job.

Realize that “average” does not mean “bad.” As I discuss in my book SuperCompetent, average (competent) people define the norm and provide the benchmarks by which we recognize high performance. They do their jobs adequately when directed, and you can depend on them for most things.

But you build your team around high performers — the “quantum leapers” who achieve up to ten times greater results than the average worker. Slow and steady may win the race, but you need to hitch yourself to a star to make real progress.

So how can you detect this star quality? Look for these attributes.

1. Stars look good on paper

“Paper trails” offer clues about people’s performance ability.

Did someone graduate summa cum laude with a double major? Good — that suggests an overachiever.

If someone has quickly risen through the ranks at previous jobs with stellar performance records, you may have a winner on your hands. But you can’t always rule out the possibility of a personality or attitude change since that last glowing review.

2. The Yoda attitude

I love the line by Yoda, the little green Jedi master in Star Wars, who told Luke Skywalker: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Look for this attitude during your face-time interviews with each candidate. High performers confront workplace challenges head-on and apply experience and creativity to craft tailored solutions that get the job done.

Ask candidates what they’d do in hypothetical situations, noting how well and how quickly they can construct a reasonable solution.

3. Sharp, well-defined goals

High performers have no problem citing their goals, both short- and long-term.

They can present those goals neatly and quickly and show a solid understanding of the steps required to achieve them. They know how to translate goals into action.

4. Ambition

High performers push themselves to get ahead.

These high-energy self-starters radiate confidence, don’t need anyone else to motivate them, and maintain a clear sense of direction.

5. Excellent time-management skills

High-performance burnout can be a big problem.

Ambition, solid goals, and a can-do attitude matter little if a worker can’t juggle time well. High performers understand the basics of time management well enough to create a work/life balance that maximizes their personal productivity without exhausting themselves.

You’ve probably experienced an occasional pleasant surprise when someone you’ve written off as average suddenly rises to the top of the performance ladder. Similarly, you may have suffered disappointment at the hands of a “sure thing.”

Yes, performance DOES matter

In the end, performance matters, not appearance, so take care not to mistake style for substance.

Search for the five characteristics outlined here before assuming you have a firecracker on your team.

“Masters of disguise,” who depend on their winning personalities to get them on board, usually can’t hide their weaknesses well enough to evade careful scrutiny.

True high performers exhibit a fearless, ambitious, action-oriented and — above all else — results-oriented approach that no one can easily fake.

Reprinted from the book, Execution IS the Strategy. by Laura Stack, with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014. 

Laura Stack is one of America's premier experts on productivity, and her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides workshops around the globe on productivity, potential, and performance. She’s the author of six books, most recently, “Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time.” Contact her at laura@theproductivitypro.com, or you can connect with her on LinkedIn.
  • http://www.competencytoolkit.com Jim Graber

    I can’t argue with any of the attributes in the list, but most important is what Laura says at the end: “Performance DOES Matter.” The best predictor of a high performing employee, more so than traits, is a consistent track record of performance over time in varied situations. Also, instead of selecting 5 universal traits, create a competency model for a role and then look for candidates with a track record of success and the specific competencies required for the role.