Think about the best employees you have ever had. What did that person do that made him or her so special? I am not talking about the people in the top 50 percent. I am talking about the top 1 percent. I have had hundreds of people work for me over the past 40 years, and there are only a few that I would put in the 1 percent category.
These are the people that you would say this about: If I had one more of him or her and the rest of my group went away, we would still get all our work done.
What do they do that makes them so special? I started with a list of seven characteristics and had to add an eighth, humor.
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- Always looking to delight their customer ... me. My very best employees always saw me as one, if not “the” most important, of their customers. Their work was always of the highest quality (excellent). Often you received the work before the established deadline. Frequently their work went beyond the requested scope. They thought of something that would improve the solution but could be easily removed if I didn’t think it fit.
- Did not avoid conflict but instead tried to deal with it in a constructive way. The very best employees understand that different viewpoints are an inevitable part of people working together. The best employees help clarify those points of view and propose ways to find common ground. They broker and bring different factions together to move things forward.
- Went out of their way to help co-workers accomplish their goals. Not only did my stars complete all of their assignments, they willingly and often voluntarily pitched in to help their coworkers succeed. They did this as a resource to others with no expectation of credit. To them, it is about the team and making it look better.
- Looked for opportunities to increase their own skills while promoting the goals of our group. The very best are never content with resting on their laurels. It is always about looking for the next challenge and the things they can do to improve their existing performance. It is typically something they do in addition to their existing workload as opposed to “in place of” it.
- Shared constructive feedback for me in an appropriate environment. I once managed a highly educated, strongly opinionated group of people who were quick to tell me in a staff meeting that something was wrong. At times it felt like the focus was on why something couldn’t work as opposed to how to overcome the issue or obstacle. My very best people would come and see me privately after these events and share their thoughts. The point of view they shared was direct and candid. It also contained suggestions for how to address the issue or problem. I felt comfortable sharing any concerns I had about their suggestions. We always left the room with ideas on how to move the situation forward. It wasn’t that they were trying to “play” to the boss. They felt that trying to take on their peers in that environment would not have a positive outcome.
- Always had a positive attitude toward others, the work and the organization. The very best employees seem to always have a cheery, positive disposition. Does that mean that things don’t upset them? No. Even on a bad day they can put things in perspective and bounce back. There is a resiliency in the very best that sets a tone for everyone else.
- They speak when others won’t. It’s the superstar who responds to the difficult questions. Let’s say you are in a staff meeting and ask how to improve your meetings. Often, the answer you get is silence. The superstar is the one who breaks the silence and gives a candid and constructive response. There may appear to be a discrepancy between my answer to this characteristic and #5. Part of the difference is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. In this one, you have invited your employees to speak.
- Sense of humor. Work is often difficult. Some days are very difficult. Being able to interject a sense of humor cuts the tension and puts “the work” in perspective. The very best employees have a sense of timing around this. It adds to a feeling of camaraderie.