What Makes a Top Performer?


Last week, I had a conversation with a couple of people about identifying their top customers. It’s been my experience that when asked to name their best customers – that is, those who contribute the most to the business – the majority of people get it wrong. A look into actual sales data and performance of actual accounts over time always reveals others who contributed more. In fact, those that were considered “top” customers often prove to be hurting the business. Their demands for refunds and special treatment make them a burden rather than an asset.

The same can be said of employees I think. A manager’s perception of their team’s top performers is very often skewed. Someone who knows the right things to say or manages to be in the right place at the right time is not necessarily a key contributor. Digging into some actual performance data reveals that the actual work was conducted by others, people who may not be in a position of influence. The one you think is a top performer may in fact be riding on the coattails of the organization’s true heroes.

How do you identify a top performer? How do you know you are one them?

Top Performers Will: Top Performers Won’t:
  • Volunteer for new challenges.
  • Wait for someone to tell them what needs to be done.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Allow you to believe they contributed more than they did.
  • Have a track record of steady contribution.
  • Have a hard time explaining their individual contribution to the team.
  • Identify ways to improve the organization.
  • Bad-mouth the organization.
  • Look for opportunities to assist others.
  • Shrug their shoulders when others encounter difficulty.
  • Work to build a history of performance.
  • Rely on friendships or past successes.
  • Have the support of those who work closest to them.
  • Be resented for failing to act as part of the team.

As a manager, do you know who your top performers really are? Are you relying on hearsay, assumptions, or friendships to guide your perception of team performance? If you were to dig a little deeper into actual performance, who would stand out?

As an employee, are you contributing in a way that identifies you as a top performer? Are you producing actual work or claiming success that really isn’t yours? Would those who see what you do on a daily basis refer to you as a top performer?

We all want to be seen as a marquee player. And everyone wants to have superstars on their team. The good news is top performers, like top customers, are easy to spot. You just have to know what to look for. What attributes tell you someone is a top performer?

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