What does “top performance” mean to you? Different companies have different notions of what it means to be a top performer, but definitions are often centered around the specific traits managers believe yield strong performance in a particular role or field. But what if it’s simpler than that?
Our research has led us to believe the traits of top performers are remarkably consistent across different jobs, sectors and organizational cultures. In a survey of employers, we found that top performers in all industries have what might be best termed well-rounded personalities.
Those that perform at the top of their organizations or professions have a tendency to be quick learners, personable, helpful and efficient in their day-to-day work. Employees whose performance consistently exceeds the norm also tend to take action to go beyond what is required of them, work well with others and communicate effectively. They listen to others, are open to feedback and criticism, and have a strong desire to learn.
Let’s explore what this looks like in practice, and look at ways you can target these well-rounded candidates who are more likely to become top performers at your organization.
Stories of two top performers in action
For much of the past decade, Jose Magrass has been the top-selling hot dog vendor in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Before each game, park vendors choose the good they want to sell, with the most senior vendors getting first pick. Magrass ranks 20th in the pecking order, but in spite of this—and due in part to a staunch work ethic and well-rounded skill set—he regularly comes out on top in sales.
Much of Magrass’ success could be attributed to the highly strategic approach he brings to his work and his ability to learn quickly on the job. He adjusts his tactics based on variables like the weather, the good he’s selling or the section he’s working. He goes above and beyond what’s expected of him by helping his peers and striving to provide top-notch service to maximize his commission-based income.
“Not only is Jose among the best at his trade, but he serves as a mentor to younger vendors working their way up through the ranks,” says David Freireich, spokesperson for Aramark, which has repeatedly named Magrass an All-Star Vendor.
On the other side of the country in Seattle, Amazon engineer Charlie Ward is credited with first suggesting the creation of Amazon Prime, the online retailer’s hugely popular membership program. Ward thought beyond the boundaries of his technology role and took initiative to improve Amazon’s business model when he submitted the idea for Prime via an employee suggestion box.
“Ward thought some customers would be willing to spend more, and might even shop more often if they could be part of a buying club that offered rapid shipping,” wrote Jay Greene for the Seattle Times.
And the company’s faith in Ward’s bright idea has paid off: Analysts now estimate that Amazon Prime members spend more than twice as much money on the site as non-Prime members.
The impact of top performers like Magrass and Ward can’t be overstated. Companies like GE, Apple and Google say their top performers have anywhere from 10X to 300X as much impact as their average-performing peers.
Five traits to seek out when hiring
Our research identified the top five traits high-performing employees have in common. By targeting these characteristics strategically with your recruiting and hiring processes, you can bring more top talent into your organization and reach your business goals faster.
Self Direction: Top performers are comfortable diving in and getting to work with little to no hand-holding from their managers.
Strategic Thinking: These employees are adept at seeing the big picture, setting goals, and prioritizing what needs to be done to maximize results.
Initiative: They are self-starters who don’t wait to be asked to take action. They take ownership of tasks and set a strong example for their peers.
Problem Solving: Rather than complaining or resigning to defeat, top performers embody a problem-solving mindset, looking for solutions and staying positive.
Drive: High-performing employees are motivated to make an impact and they don’t shy away from hard work on their way to success.
To learn more about our research on the traits and job search habits of top talent, download our 2016 Talent Attraction Study: How Top Performers Search for Jobs.