In the last 5 years or so, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of different companies in quite varied industries to understand performance excellence—to understand what behaviors are unique to those individuals who consistently achieve exceptional results in their field. As you might expect, the behaviors vary widely and are typically specific to the role in question, from developing their own tools to solve a particular problem to conducting research that their peers never considered. Through their unconscious competence, top performers take steps above and beyond the normal routine, often not even for their own benefit but to improve processes for their customers or colleagues. These behaviors become the framework for new training and performance support solutions, introduced in an effort to elevate the performance of the masses, that is, for other performers in the same or similar roles.
This approach can have a powerful impact on organizational effectiveness and on improving bottom-line results. However, individual performance excellence must be closely tied to organizational business objectives from the very beginning, and performance improvement measures must be comprehensive, rather than treated as a single training event. (Think Gilbert’s model of behavioral engineering: information, tools, motivation, knowledge, skills, and incentives all working together toward success.)
In my experience over the years with multiple roles across many different industries, I have noticed a few common themes emerging that may not translate quite so directly into new performance interventions but that are worth noting as intangibles of performance excellence.
The first of these is mindset. Top performers in many roles have a certain level of curiosity, a willingness and a desire to continuously learn new things, and a focus on improving and growing themselves and their organization. They are the individuals who keep abreast of trends in their industry, who are most likely to volunteer to work on a taskforce, to be creative, and to innovate and collaborate with others.
Top performers also tend to be relationship oriented; they are able to quickly identify key stakeholders, staying close to customers and advocating for their interests (customer-centric thinking). They also have strong internal networks with colleagues across the organization and often with peers in other organizations in the same industry. They are then able to gain and apply a broad perspective on how to get things done most effectively.
Resilience and perseverance are the final characteristics that seem to span multiple roles and to achieve breakthrough results. Top performers seem to push through adversity, often defining new pathways to do so. They adapt to change and may even become champions for change, stepping into informal leadership roles to guide others to the goal line.
While these observations may not speak to specific learning and development solutions, they do suggest a new perspective on human capital management. These themes so central to performance excellence suggest our need to consider different recruiting messages and tactics, varied questions for potential hires to reveal their natural curiosity, and opportunities to identify high-potential, persistent employees in whom we want to invest to retain and grow for our future success.
For more information on successful strategies that will ensure your people strategy is focused on training and development, please explore People Development.