Forbes - The Six Traits High-Performing Employees Share

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The Six Traits High-Performing Employees Share

I was recently coaching an executive and the concept of people “stepping up to the plate” came up. This executive said he was having trouble getting his customer service team to take initiative and go after problems present at the company. He felt like he had to lead every initiative and that the business wouldn't run without him. He also felt like he couldn't take a vacation for fear that everything would fall apart and he sometimes managed every detail of his team's work.

This is a frustrating place to be as a leader, and it's no picnic for team members, either. They will likely feel micromanaged and become disengaged with work. So, what's the solution? Look for high performers and then trust them to do the work you hired them to do.

What is a high performer? I define and measure these team members by the following six technical and behavioral skills. Note that most high performers will not have all six items when they start working, but they can grow into them.

1. Competent

Are they good at their jobs? How do you measure their skills in order to feel confident that they are good at their jobs? Is what you are measuring subjective or is it based on objective facts? This is mostly based on technical skills and is one of the easier things to measure. I use a 0-3 scale and rate each person on the skills required for the job, such as clear communication, industry knowledge, etc.

2. Good Intentions

Someone who doesn't have good intentions might gossip about their peers or customers. Someone with good intentions stops the gossip and rumor mill in the office. Look for teammates who are aligned with how you want your business to run. This can change based on what you value in your culture. An example that is a little more subtle is when someone ignores or pushes off work.

Personally, I like to see a pattern of behavior before jumping to conclusions. I once had an employee who was in their probationary period and had already demonstrated performance issues. I asked the employee to write up a particular assignment that was due on Friday. This gave him two business days to do a five-minute assignment. He and I sat down on Friday at 11 a.m. and, when I asked for the assignment, he said, “I thought it was due at the end of the day.”

Normally this would have been acceptable and I would take accountability for communicating better. However, this employee had already demonstrated other performance issues; this was the last indication that he was not a good fit for our company culture and didn't have good intentions for the job.

3. Reliable

Is the person on time every day? Can I trust them to get the job done when I delegate a task to them? Reliability is the cornerstone of a small business, since many of us founders don't have the luxury of hiring extra resources. If an employee can't be relied upon to show up, be present and work hard, then they aren't a good cultural fit for us.

Traits 4-6 come from Patrick Lencioni's book, The Ideal Team Player. I saw many parallels between ideal team players and high performers, so I was inspired to add the following three traits to my high-performer definition.

4. Humble

Are they willing to learn a new way of working and not just rely on what they have done in the past? Are they willing to take feedback and learn from mistakes? Are they willing to say they are not good enough yet and keep striving for mastery of their work?

I look for employees who apologize for their mistakes and accept the apologies of others, are willing to do “lower level” work for the benefit of the team and are confident in their own ideas. Being humble does not mean taking credit for the work of the team or never being willing to apologize.

5. Hungry

Hungry means they take initiative without being told. They look for teammates who need help. They are the first to volunteer for projects and want to be known as your go-to people. You know your employees are hungry when you don't have to tell them to do more work. They will take it on themselves. Hungry people have almost no downtime in their day.

6. People Smart

Are your team members good at talking to peers, bosses and customers in a way that is professional, appropriate and demonstrates big-picture thinking? Someone who is people smart can deescalate an upset customer with ease versus making the situation worse.

How To Review Employees For These Traits

When we do performance reviews at my company, we review these six items and give team members feedback on how to maximize each one as needed. A good way to start implementing this review process is to create an IS / IS NOT list that defines the actions team members would and would not demonstrate to embody each trait.

For example, here is what our IS / IS NOT list for "good intentions" looks like:

High Performer IS

  • Able to admit and own up to mistakes

  • Trusted by managers and teammates

  • Someone who looks out for both the business and the customer

  • Someone who reaches out for help when they don't know the answer

Is Not

  • A gossip

  • Someone who avoids helping out teammates

  • Someone who takes things from the office without permission

  • Someone who makes excuses for mistakes

Create this for every item to help you develop a high-performing hiring process and culture. The magic of this approach happened for us when we focused on the coaching, training and development of our teammates. It took us about three months to see an impact, and it has continued to give us improvements over the past three years.

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