Accelerate Your Performance

High Performers: Who Are They?

March 25, 2019 Studer Education Season 1 Episode 16
Accelerate Your Performance
High Performers: Who Are They?
Show Notes Transcript

What are the 5 characteristics of high performers and why they are crucial to keep on your team? High performers do their best and their best makes a difference; they deserve for us to give our best to them. Learn how to identify your high performers, and how to retain them using the 3 techniques provided this week.  

This episode addresses questions, such as: 

  • How do high performing employees act? 
  • How do we retain our highest performing employees? 
  • What do high performers want for from their leaders? 

High Performers: Who Are They? is the first episode in a series of episodes describing the performance curve and performance conversations. 

Recommended Reading: The Irreplaceables: Uncovering the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools 

Recommended Learning:  Themes of High Performing Employees


Thank you for joining today’s Accelerate Your Performance Podcast. And thank you for having a desire to be your best at  work and helping your organization achieve success. This podcast focuses on tactical actions to improve workplace culture and these tactics align to our Nine Principles® for Organizational Excellence.  

Today, we’ll focus on “Retaining High Performers.” 


I start today with findings from a research study that has helped me understand the value of high performing employees.  It is a study that focused on retaining K12 teachers. I know you will learn from it and transfer the findings to most any organizational setting.  I sure did.


Several years ago, The New Teachers Project studied teachers across four large,  urban school districts.  They focused on what they called, "Irreplaceables,” or teachers who are so successful they are nearly impossible to replace, but who too often vanish from schools as the result of neglect and inattention. 


The researchers examined student academic growth results for approximately 20,000 teachers. They used the data to identify teachers who performed exceptionally well (that is, by helping students make much more academic progress than expected). Their goal was to see how the teachers’ experiences and opinions about their work differed from teachers with exceptionally poor performance related to student academic growth results.


Here’s what they found. Leaders neglected the irreplaceables or their highest performing teachers and tolerated poor performing teachers. Also, they found schools retained their best and least-effective teachers at strikingly similar rates. Bottom line – schools lost too many high performing teachers, and kept too may poor performers. Why? Because schools didn’t spend enough time on actions that helped retain high performers.


Now, listen to the devastating impact this had. Here’s what the researchers discovered. 


When a school loses a high performer and the school is an above average performing school, the school had a 6 in 11 chance of replacing that person with another high performer. When a school is a low performing school, the school had a 1 in 11 chance of replacing that person with another high performer.  Tragically, this loss negatively effects student success.  


We can transfer the findings of this study to our own work environments by considering our answers to questions like – How well do we retain our high performers? When we lose our highest performers, how likely are we to replace the high performer with another high performer? And, how long does it take to get new hires to a high performing level?


When we think about how we answer these questions, we realize that one of the most important actions we take in our organizations is to retain high performers. That’s what this podcast episode is about.


As leaders we spend too much time and energy on our lowest performers, don’t we, and not enough time with high performers.  I’ve found over the years that one of the most important actions we can take as leaders is to retain high performers by taking one consistent action - re-recruit them.  The thought of losing a high performer makes us feel like we are going to pass out. We can’t imagine how we will ever replace this valuable team member – we feel our high performers are yes, irreplaceable.  On the other hand, when a low performer decides to leave, we feel like high fiving most anyone we see.  


Let’s think more deeply about how we know we have high performers in our organization. 


First, high performers strive to do their best all the time. And, their best is pretty remarkable.


Second, high performers are humble and also know they can always improve. 



I’ve had the pleasure of working with high performing colleagues who reflect these two characteristics. What have I noticed them doing?  My high performing colleagues relentlessly focus on growing themselves for the benefit of the organization. They see how what they do affects the organization as a whole – they take full responsibility for impacting the organizational results. They celebrate the successes and own the failures. 


I’ve witnessed my high performing colleagues push themselves.  They strive for stretching themselves to achieve high performing results, rather than setting goals they know they can achieve. They know just the right way to push themselves and work with others to continuously improve. Why? Because these high performers are constantly thinking about ways to improve their performance – they are never satisfied. And, they know that celebrating success is important to do. 


Here’s another way I’m able to recognize high performing colleagues striving to do their best. They know the difference between working on job tasks and aligning the right work to achieve organizational priorities. Both are important. Good, solid performers come to work and do their tasks and at times, depend on direct guidance.  On the other hand, high performers are driven by aligning what they do with a sole purpose of contributing to high performing organizational results.  


Let me introduce you to a model high performer who achieves results and always focuses on improvement. Donna Kirby, Vice President of Operations has been a leader with the Blue Wahoos Baseball team since its inaugural season. The Blue Wahoos team is Pensacola’s Double A Baseball team affiliated with the Minnesota Twins.  If you are ever in Pensacola, please make plans to attend a game and experience outstanding service at a beautiful baseball park overlooking Pensacola Bay. We’ll welcome you to our city.


Donna has been instrumental in putting Pensacola on the map. She is a leader in the field of exemplary customer service. Her core responsibility is to create an environment focused on extraordinary customer service. Her impact reflected in customer service results has been so strong that representatives from other organizations connect with Donna to gain insight on how to take their organizations to the next level with customer service.  And, you probably guessed it - Donna believes she needs to continuously improve to get to 99.9% customer satisfaction.


This story about Donna exemplifies the first and second of five high performing characteristics. First, high performers strive to do their best, and second, high performers are humble, and they know they can always improve.  


Third, high performers also bring solutions to problems. Have you known people who easily identify problems yet fall short of offering a solution?  That’s not what you will see with high performers.  They may say something like this –


“In the past few weeks, our team failed to meet our deadlines on getting the new products on the shelf within 24 hours from arriving at the store, which is our standard. The ordering timeline is working fine. We’re not able to manage our work to stock the shelves.  I have a possible new process we could deploy that would free up time for our team members who need to fulfill this responsibility. Would it be beneficial for us to review this idea?”


High performers come with solutions to problems. 


Fourth, high performers model the organizational values.  In our podcast episodes we continue to speak about operationalizing organizational values. Remember, we ask – do our values hang on the walls or walk the halls?  High performers live these values all the time and when they mess up from time to time, they immediately know they are out of line. They call themselves out and apologize for the misstep. High performers also expect their teammates to live the values; by being a role model, they have great influence on others.  


On our team, I’ve asked Dr. KK Owen to lead our values work.  Why? Because she is a model for living our team values.  She is a role model for her clients and our team.  KK strives to be her best all the time and always asks how she can improve.  And, she has never put things on my plate as the team leader; instead, KK does the legwork needed to bring solutions forward. I feel she respects  my time.  I have great confidence in KK and rely on her.  And, I know and hear from organizations she works with – they feel the same way.  


A fifth characteristic of a high performer is a positive attitude. Our attitude controls our life and we control our attitude. I’ve learned over the decades of being a leader, to be a high performer, an individual must have a positive attitude. We can’t afford to tolerate negative attitudes – negativity is lethal to the organization.  The quickest way to get rid of bad attitudes is to expect employees to change, follow up to ensure this occurs and if not, find the best way to transition the negative individual out of the organization. I realize we have to balance this decision with years of tolerating negativity.  As leaders, let’s stop tolerating negative people – make it a new day with a new expectation and explain why.  Then, let’s focus with all of our might to support positive attitudes and address negative ones. 


Similar to most people, I’ve not always had a positive attitude. And I was fortunate to learn a lesson early in my career. Years ago, one of my colleagues approached me about my negative attitude at a meeting. She asked, “is there anything that you find right with the work we are doing?  Every time we meet, you only bring things that are wrong.”  She stopped me in my tracks. I left that day angry that she would do what she did. I remember thinking – how dare her?  After getting over my anger, I found myself reflecting on her question and realized she was right. That day, I decided to change. I made a choice to engage with a positive attitude and find a professional way to approach problems or issues. Over time I learned that bringing a solution to a  problem was an even better approach.  


Having a positive attitude is a choice. People choose to approach work and customers with positive attitudes.  We’ll come back to stamping out negativity in an organization on a later podcast episode. It deserves more attention because negativity is too prevalent in organizations.


In summary, here are five characteristics of high performers that I’ve found to be highly valuable for organizations to achieve excellence.


1.  High performers strive to do their best all the time.

2.  High performers are humble and know they can always improve. 

3.  High performers bring solutions to identified problems.

4.  High performers live the organizational values.

5.  High performers have a positive attitude. 


Let’s close with several thoughts on how we retain high performers in our organizations. They are too valuable to lose.


What do high performers want of their leaders? Let’s focus on three things:


First, they want feedback. Evidence shows that feedback is a contributing factor to job satisfaction. High performers want their managers to meet with them to discuss their performance. They want to know what they do well and where they can improve.  Here’s what we’ve learned. High performers say they expect at least a monthly connection with their managers, but only about ½ of the high performers say their leaders engage in monthly meetings with them.  And, ½ may be a generous number in some organizations. As most of us have experienced, leaders rely on mid-year and annual performance reviews. High performers tell us when this occurs they feel underappreciated. 


Second, high performers want to be developed, and they like to direct their own learning.  We’ll come back to best ways to develop people in our organizations in a later episode. 


Third, high performers want to be recognized because they understand that their accomplishments contribute to the organization’s results. So, recognizing high performers by showing how what they do impacts results is a great way to re-recruit high performers. We let them know that what they do matters, and our organization is better because of their contributions. 


Being a high performer is not easy; it takes both great skill and will.  

·     The skill to do the right work in a way that contributes to organizational results. 


·     And, the drive and resolve to work with teams and customers in highly productive ways. 


This week let’s take time to reflect on our own performance. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest rating, assess yourself.


How well do I strive to do my best all the time – push to achieve beyond expectations?


Am I humble and know I can always improve?


Do I bring solutions to identified problems?


Do I live the organizational values?


Do I have a positive attitude? 


If you supervise others, reflect on how well you retain high performers. On a scale of 1 to 5, how well do you do the following?


·     Provide feedback to high performers more than twice a year.


·     Offer ways to develop high performers giving them opportunities to identify their own needs.


·     Recognize high performers by letting them know what they do contributes to the overall results.


I leave with this message for leaders to think about.  How can we as leaders expect our employees to be high performers if we don’t expect the same for ourselves?  Think of the negative impact for high performers who work for low performing leaders.  I think you will agree – excellent organizations can’t afford for this to occur.  High performers do their best and their best makes a difference; they deserve for us to give our best to them. 


Thank you for tuning in to Accelerate Your Performance. I look forward to connecting with you on our next episode where we focus on the second episode of a series of episodes on performance coaching conversations.  This week, we’ve focused on learning about high performers. Next week we’ll focus on good, solid performing employees.  In two weeks, we will focus on low performing employees. And then I’ll offer recommendations for how we engage in performance coaching conversations with employees along the performance continuum. Have a great week.