Identifying High Performers

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
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The chaos created by a difficult, unpredictable business environment dictates that retention and recruitment of high-performing employees is critical to the bottom-line success of every organization.

The economy might be slowing down or headed for a recession; however, the labor market is still tight when it comes to recruiting and retaining high-performing individuals. However, a Leadership IQ survey identified that about half (47 percent) of high performing employees are actively looking for new jobs. Yet, only 18 percent of the low performers are looking for work.


As the president and founder of HRworks, a national executive search firm and recruitment process outsourcing provider, the number of available high-performers is encouraging as it indicates a large pool of desirable candidates in the marketplace who are willing to consider opportunities. Our job as recruiters is to identify high performers and present them with new opportunities.


Whether recruiting or retaining high performers, the first step is the same: identification. Most employers regularly review their workforce for performance and potential.

From a recruiter's point of view, the characteristics measured equate to career growth, accomplishments on a resume, awards, increased scope of responsibility, compensation and various data points for comparison. So although core and functional competencies vary by company and position there are common characteristics of high performers that transcend most companies.

Here are five of the top characteristics to consider when identifying high performers:

* Gets results;

* Influences others;

* Displays leadership;

* Seeks continuous learning; and

* Demonstrates functional competency.

Gets Results

A history of delivering quality results across a period of time, different business conditions or complex situations is a good indicator of the potential to deliver future results. The current results are important as they are relevant to the current responsibility and business situation.

However, there are other aspects to consider. The individual's role in delivering the results is critical. It is possible to take over a well run business and post record results on the coattails of the previous business owner.

As a matter of fact it is common, as high-performers are often promoted based on their performance. Therefore, consistency of performance is a more valid indicator of an individual's ability to drive a business.

In addition, the consistency of performance over time is more predictive of future performance. This is particularly important when recruiting as a new employer is interested in what they can do in the future rather than what they did in the past.

Influence Others

High performing organizations are collaborative by nature. Even the most talented individual contributor needs to be able to communicate with others and build relationships or partnerships throughout the organization. 

Moreover, this characteristic is increasingly important as workforces globalize. Demonstrated ability to communicate with internal and external groups is a skill set that high performers possess. More important is the higher-level ability to influence others.

High performing employees have cross-functional relationships and can communicate clearly and concisely to a wide audience of peers and subordinates in the organization. They typically make persuasive presentations and arguments for their ideas and as a result make a larger impact on the organization.

Displays Leadership

Following the rules is an important aspect of success, but leading people and developing leaders is critical to the future of an organization, particularly in times of transition or challenges to the business. Most people can follow, but not everyone can lead.

High performers typically balance the need to follow and execute with the ability to lead people and projects. Typically, organizations recognize high performers by giving them responsibility for key projects or business sectors. Their performance creates opportunity for growth and their ability to guide teams through complex situations helps build other leaders.

Therefore, the wake behind a high performer is not just results, but also other leaders within the organization and an increasing scope of responsibility.

Seeks Continuous Learning

A personal commitment to learning is paramount to performance. Even the best training and development program cannot improve the performance of an individual who is not committed to taking responsibility for his or her own development.

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High-performing individuals seek out learning, formal or informal to hone their skills and stay on top of the latest trends and industry ideas. A simple question of how an individual stays on top of changes in the industry gives valuable insight as to their desire to be the best. Without the desire to learn, knowledge, skills and ability atrophy.

Most high performers are inquisitive and interested in innovation. Their careers demonstrate an ability to learn complex information and apply it to their role. The Internet and distance learning has become an important augmentation to corporate development.

If there isn't a commitment to learn, the level of performance will deteriorate and a high level of performance will not be maintained. 

Demonstrates Functional Competency

Experienced individuals bring specific knowledge, skills and abilities to the table. A high level of technical competency is critical to the success of all positions; however, high performers typically have well-developed skills specific to their role and have a greater ability to apply those skills to achieve quality outcomes.

Poor performers may not be incompetent; however, their ability to apply their skills consistently or across varying situations is limited in comparison.

As important as functional competency is to overall performance, without proficiency in the other four characteristics -- the ability to get results, influence others, lead people and continuously learn -- an individual's contribution will be limited.

High Five Potential

Identifying high performers is essential to every organization as these individuals are the backbone of the business, driving results and helping build the future of the organization. It is also important to bear in mind that they are also the most and desirable candidates to recruiters and competitors.

Recognizing that nearly one-half of the high performers are actively evaluating opportunities makes it vital that each organization properly identifies the star performers and builds a plan to retain these key players.

In addition, there is some good news for companies needing to add to their talent pipeline. A down economy is a great time to acquire the talent that might not be readily available in a more robust time. He first to identify is often the first to acquire.

Kurt Ronn is the president and founder of HRworks, a national recruitment firm that helps major companies compliantly acquire talent to build their organizations. For more information, visit

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