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Finding “A” Players – how to attract and keep good people

What makes an individual performer stand out? Which skills distinguish the best from the merely good? Here they are.

Attracting and retaining the best partners, colleagues, and service providers always ranks near the top of any owner or executive’s to-do list. It’s hard to find good people, and it’s really hard to find the best people – the top performers.triathlon

There’s a reason it’s so difficult. Only about 5 to 10 percent of the workforce can be classified as “A” players and they can be hard to spot in a sea of candidates.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have studied the issue exhaustively through surveys, interviews, and many years of leadership consulting experience. According to them, the top characteristic of exceptional contributors is productivity. They just get more done in a given period of time.

There are other key markers for finding “a” players. In the words of Zenger and Folkman, if you want to find exceptional contributors look for those individuals that:

Set stretch goals and high standards. This was the single most significant differentiator. The best individual contributors set – and met – stretch goals that went beyond what others thought were possible. They also encouraged others to achieve exceptional results.

Work collaboratively. When we asked people in the survey to tell us what they thought were the most important attributes for any individual contributor, near the tops was “the ability to work collaboratively and foster teamwork.”  And this trait did distinguish the great from the merely competent.

Volunteer to represent the group. The best individual contributors were highly effective at representing their groups to other departments or units within the organization. If you want to stand out, have the courage to raise your hand and offer to take on the extra work of representing your group.

Embrace change, rather than resisting It. Change is difficult for everyone, but is necessary for organizational survival.  The best individual contributors are quick to embrace change in both tactics and strategy.

Take initiative. Great contributors develop a habit of volunteering their unique perspective and providing a helping hand. Initiative requires more than doing your current job well.

Walk the talk. If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through. The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another. Exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.

Use good judgment. When in doubt about a technical issue or the practicality of a proposed decision, the very best individual contributors research it carefully rather than relying on their expertise to just wing it. Outstanding contributors are open to a wide range of solutions and careful to consider what, and who, will be affected if something goes wrong.

Display personal resilience. No one is always right. Everyone suffers disappointments, failures, and disruptions. If they make a mistake, the best individual contributors acknowledge it quickly and move on.

Give honest feedback. The best individual contributors were able to provide feedback in a way that was perceived not as criticism but as a gesture of good will.

Sure, some top performers simply have internal engines that drive them faster and farther. But you can also get better performance by expecting better performance. Talk about the above behaviors, promote them, and measure them to improve the performance of your team and your entire organization.

Have a great week.

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