Identifying High-Potential Employees

How to Recognize the Characteristics of a Good Employee

Among the handful, or perhaps hundreds, of employees at your company, it can sometimes be tough to identify who are the high-potential employees that are really making a difference in your overall success, and who are the employees that are simply at or below average.  You want to know who your high-potential employees are so you can reward them and make sure they stay in your organization. What exactly do top employees offer, and how can you identify the characteristics of a good employee?

What High-Potential Employees Offer a Workplace

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High-potential employees are catalysts in the workplace. They have a collection of qualities that influence the employees around them in positive ways. Here are some key characteristic of a good employee that you should look for.

Key Characteristics – What Makes a Good Employee?

  • Work harder yet smarter than the average employee
  • Inspire other employees by not being afraid to ask questions or to throw out new ideas
  • Look for ways to innovate
  • Contagiously motivate others with their energy, curiosity and by being an example for others
  • Are self-starters and are critical to a healthy and productive workforce

Just How Valuable Are High-Potential Employees?

Did you know that, according to an article in Human Resources Magazine, “End ‘Equal Treatment’ Today! Focus On Top Performers,” top employees typically produce up to 12 times what the average employee produces? Now that’s bang for your buck and let’s face it – who can’t use a heavy hitter like that on their team. Considering the current economic environment with hiring freezes, pay cuts, and employees doing more work with fewer resources; we need to retain high-potential employees now more than ever. While there are lots of articles out there that tell you how to attract top performers to your business, I want to discuss how to find them within your business now. You need to learn the best ways to identify top performing employees in order to retain them.

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How to Notice Certain Types of Top Performing Employees

There are a number of different methods for identifying high-potential employees and top performers in your current workforce.

Often, top performers will bring themselves to your attention by standing out from the crowd. Through their actions and the way they interact with peers, handle themselves in meetings or talk about their workload, you will find them. Here are some common traits of these obvious leaders.

Characteristics of a Good Employee

  • Push themselves and you for more work, bigger challenges and opportunities for development
  • Aren’t afraid to speak up and give their ideas for improvement
  • Reliable and hard working
  • Employees, managers and customers tend to enjoy working with these individuals because they can count on them to get the work done and done right

How to Identify Less-Obvious High-Potential Employees

While the more outgoing, outspoken and gregarious top performers can be easy to recognize, some of their counterparts are not as apparent. These high-potential employees are hidden gems just waiting for you to notice them. They are very similar to other top performers except that they are subtler about their accomplishments.

How to Identify Quieter Top Performers

  • Discovered through metrics
  • Metrics they influence could be dashboard reports that show the quantity of product produced, quality of service, customer service surveys, etc.
  • They have solid reputations and receive great feedback from other employees, managers and customers

A Classic Approach: Can I Live Without This Employee?

If you’re still having trouble identifying high-potential employees and top performers within your company, there’s another simple technique you can use.

The quick and cheap way to identify top performers is by a simple force-rank of your employees. Ask yourself who in your department you can’t live without and you will see your best employees bubble to the top of your list.

It’s also a great idea to have other managers and employees do the same. You can collect their results and compare. This is very telling.  Force ranking is an informal way to find your top performers and one that I like since I subscribe to the KISS (keep it simple stupid) approach to most things. If you like a more formal approach then I would recommend the 360 review where you get similar information but with more structure.

Remember Your Goal: To Build a Stronger Company

No matter what size your organization is and how much you expect to grow in the coming years, having good employees in your company who are highly productive, self-motivated, meet deadlines and charge up your workforce with their enthusiasm is essential to your success.  And, now that you can recognize the characteristics of a good employee in your department or company, you can take steps to retain these high-potential employees. That’s another post…

Do you have other ideas on how to find top performers? If so, please share!


Holly Adamson

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Are you paying your best employees enough to retain them after the economy picks back up? Feel confident that you salary market data is up-to-date and specific enough to the education, skills set and experience of employees you want to keep. Give a PayScale demo a try.

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