Recognizing high performers

January 4, 2015 by ahmed

 

Originally posted on LinkedIn, by Jim Gilchrist

It is all about performance. Whatever you do in your working life, true career success will come from your ability to perform, to identify performance capability in others, and to surround yourself with likeminded achievement-oriented people.

I hope that you agree that higher work performance is a condition that we all should strive for. Yet the unfortunate reality is that not all of us do. In one of my recent posts, The Cost of Poor Accountability, I discussed the need for greater accountability in order to ensure that desired performance levels have been achieved. While most often people are, to various degrees, held accountable by others, there are times when accountability is not present at all. And when real accountability is absent, it is not uncommon for some people to mistakenly believe that that they are performing when they actually are not, others are able to justify falling short of defined performance requirements, and some people will simply get away with substandard performance because nobody is paying attention. The difference between high-performers and everyone else is that high-performers will invariably hold themselves accountable for achieving results.

Who Are These People?

When we envision a typical bell curve diagram, we can see that the great majority of people are found in the middle and are therefore, by definition, average performers. On one end of the curve, you will have a lower number of below-average performers, and on the other end you will have a lower number of above-average performers. In my work, I am typically interested in either those above-average performers (individuals, managers, and leaders) at the one end who typically want to increase their capabilities in order to stay ahead of the ‘pack’, or those few people who, while in the average-performance grouping, want to join the above average by enhancing their performance capabilities. So being able to identify the differences between the average and the above average is a big part of what I do. (It is very easy to spot the poor performers).

The evaluation of the presence of high-performance capability is complicated, and it is a skill set that I am proud to be constantly developing. For me, performance will be achieved, and sustained, when there is a suitable fit between both a person’s technical capability (appropriate education, technical skills and experience) and non-technical personality characteristics (‘soft skills’), and the work to be performed, as well as to the person’s manager, the team and the overall organizational culture. In this regard, my focus has been mostly toward the evaluation and development of people’s non-technical capabilities. But rather than go into specific detail regarding the wide range of performance related personality traits at this point (you can find more information in my LinkedIn Profile or the CAES website), I think it would be valuable to offer some behavioural examples that will assist you when you need to make a quick evaluation regarding the potential presence of high-performance capability, or the lack of it, in an individual. Hopefully, by doing so you will save some time and effort prior to going into a further, albeit necessary, more detailed evaluation.

A key concept behind my position is that;

high-performers tend to do everything right, not just in their work environment, but in their outside lives as well. They do not turn their performance based personality characteristics on and off.

Remembering this will be to your advantage.

One way to define performance is that it is achieved when a task is fully accomplished to desirable outcomes, within a suitable time frame, with the absence of errors. That said, we need to remember that nobody is perfect, and that we all make mistakes. The difference is that high-performers make mistakes much less often than other people, they take ownership of their errors when they do and, since they are constantly trying to learn and to increase their performance capability, they rarely repeat any mistakes that they have made. And because they consistently perform, they do not resort to; making excuses, blaming others, manipulating, lying, cheating etc. etc. They just don’t have to. So, right from the start of your quick evaluation, if you are seeing any of these very negative characteristics assume that they are much more that ‘just mistakes’. You are almost certainly dealing with a poor performer. Run away.

From a more positive perspective, we can say that high-performers are consistently:

  • intelligent,
  • highly motivated,
  • focused,
  • productive,
  • communicative,
  • ethical and trustworthy,
  • emotionally intelligent and
  • have significant interpersonal skills.

While the list is representative of some general performance-related categories, we can say that when a person consistently displays positive behaviours that are complimentary to each you are more likely dealing with a better performer. Conversely, when you experience a notable absence of these characteristics in a person you should proceed very cautiously.

Applying this concept in your career search or initial hiring screening

Let’s use the example of LinkedIn. Since this website has in many ways become an employment related environment, it may prove to be helpful in our quick performance-related evaluations – after all performance should be a key factor in employment. At first glance, the unknowing might believe that all LinkedIn members are wonderful performers based on their self-reported profiles, their numerous endorsements and their glowing recommendations. But despite what people choose to present to you, based on what we know from our bell curve, the great majority of LinkedIn participants are average performers, while some will be below-average, and a few others will be above-average.

Reverting to our consistent behavior theory, we can further hypothesize that how LinkedIn members behave and present themselves internally on the site, and how they interact, will be directly reflective of their true nature in the outside world. In other words, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that the below-average LinkedIn people may try to fool you, the average will ‘put their best foot forward’ and the above-average will simply be themselves.

From an employment perspective, whether people assume the role of an employment candidate or the role of an employer is actually inconsequential from a performance standpoint since, as we said, they do not turn their personality traits on and off regardless of their role. Knowing that they do almost everything right, and they consistently display positive personality traits, keep an eye open for these contrary negative behaviours in your quick evaluation. Above-average candidates and employers NEVER:

  • Are lazy in their career search, expecting to be ‘handed a job’, or are lazy in their search for candidates, expecting real talent to ‘find them’ through ads and social media
  • Scramble, and settle for, any job opportunity, or scramble, and settle on, easily found candidates – rather than choose that which is a superior fit
  • Believe hiring selection is based on ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what they have done’
  • Fail to do their research, and properly assess an organization and its culture, or fail to properly assess a candidate’s capability
  • Make various errors throughout the application and search process, or make errors throughout their hiring and selection process
  • Complain about their search results, or complain about their hiring results – rather than change their method
  • View networking as a ‘me only’ exercise, being reluctant to help others, or view hiring as a ‘me only’ exercise failing to keep candidate’s best interests in mind
  • Fail to communicate appropriately
  • Fail to do what they say they will do
  • Try to take advantage of others and expect something for nothing
  • Treat people poorly and disrespectfully
  • Fail to understand that selection is based on actual past performance and the potential to perform in a new role

As you can see, whether people are on either side of the employment equation (or within any type of business relationsip actually), high performers will act in similar ways.

Should you see people showing these characteristics in their employment search and application process, you can assume that they will continue to act similarly after they are hired, and thus they will most likely not be capable of performing at above-average levels. And if hiring personnel (especially managers) show these traits in the hiring and selection process, you can assume, as well, that they will continue to do so after you are hired. Being aware of these signals will help you to avoid going too far with those lesser performers who can only temporarily mask their lower capabilities. Ignore them at your career peril.

High-performers are rare. For those of us who truly want to associate with those rare high performing candidates, managers and organizations we will, unfortunately, all have to ‘kiss a lot of frogs’ in our search. While by no means a substitute for a full-fledged evaluative process, hopefully this short list of warning signs will help you to reduce the amount of your ‘frog kissing’ as much as possible. Remember, if they say ‘ribit’ today, they will say ‘ribit’ tomorrow.

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