The secrets of high performing workers


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Two coworkers sitting at a deskDon’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being average. In fact, we need “average” to define norms and provide a benchmark to help us identify and recognize high and low performance.

Estimates vary, but general consensus is that about 80% of all employees are considered average performers. Organizations could not survive without them. That said, it can be challenging to advance in your career if you’re perceived as being one of a large number of average workers.

CEB, a member-based advisory company, found that only 5% of the workforce will be high performers in a new work environment.

Based on their research, the 3 ingredients to higher performance are:

  • Adapting to change—High performers quickly adjust to frequent work environment changes. Agile employees are also proactive; they are not paralyzed by change, and they are willing to take action and think of ways to improve.
  • Working collaboratively—High performers are good collaborators, working well with and through others. They have the teamwork skills necessary to work with a wide range of people across organizations. They use their technical expertise to influence stakeholders and contribute to collaborative projects.
  • Applying judgment—High performers use strong analytic skills to prioritize their work, assess problems, and make decisions. They rely on their expertise, experience and knowledge of an organization to apply good judgment.

Breaking into the top 5% of the workforce

There’s no single path to the top, but here are some best practices to keep you focused:

  • Set clearly defined and achievable goals. Write them down and review them regularly.
  • Use your time wisely. Prioritize your time and complete tasks based on importance. Do tasks that move you towards your goals and avoid the rest.
  • Be disciplined. Making your way to the top takes work and persistence. Achievers don’t give up easily and they learn from their missteps.
  • Take initiative. Go above and beyond the expected, check in regularly with your superior(s) and align your actions with your team and departmental objectives.
  • Communicate well. The better your communication and interpersonal skills, the more likely you’ll find support from colleagues as you pursue your goals. Make time to develop these essential skills!

A recent article focused on a study conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute that analyzed 1.7 million workers across all industries, positions, and pay-grades. The conclusion? High-performance isn’t an outcome of traits; it’s an outcome of activity. That’s good news for all of us!

Here’s what high-performers do:

  • Ask questions. Challenge the status quo with questions like ‘why not?’ and ‘what would happen if…?’
  • Figure out how things work. High-performers see how things work and ask how they could work better.
  • Have engaging conversations. High-performers talk to people to learn about their different perspectives and to have real conversations with people from all walks of life. They know you don’t learn by surrounding yourself with only your own ideas.
  • Make a difference. High performers want to make a difference. By having a meaningful end goal, the obstacles are just part of the journey, not something to derail the whole project. Grit is important and it’s easier to have grit when there’s a good reason to keep going.

The good news is that anyone can improve their performance and join the top 5%! With focus, persistence and a willingness to abandon familiar patterns to try something different, you too can become a high performer.

By Mark Pundzius