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Winter 2013: Putting the ‘Person’ in Personnel Decisions
 

By John R. Graham   1/22/2013
 

Managers are usually comfortable assessing an employee’s or a candidate’s job-related competencies based on resumes, testing and interviewing. But singling out personal traits that contribute to star performance is harder. The following seven qualities provide managers with the best clues:

Speaks up. Speaking up to express constructive ideas and offer suggestions are qualities managers should encourage. Star performers are usually vocal when they believe a decision is wrong, and they defend themselves and their ideas when challenged.

When someone speaks up, it shows a commitment to the work and to the company. It’s a sign that the employee thinks for himself, practices critical thinking and is highly engaged.

Displays modesty. In the May 9 Wall Street Journal, columnist Brent Stephens offered advice to this year’s college graduates: “Your prospective employers can smell ‘BS’ from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink.”

But self-puffery is pervasive. Just read online self-profiles. Look for the employee or candidate who lets ideas and performance do the talking. Those are the people who give credit to the team and partner with co-workers.

Challenges “magic bullet” answers. It’s so easy to fall prey to “magic bullet” solutions. Star performers can look at any issue from different perspectives, poke holes, learn from past mistakes and chart how a seemingly fail-proof solution may have unintended consequences. And because they have strong networks, they know who needs to be brought in to find a solution.

Practices introspection. Self-knowledge is perhaps the most critical trait star performers possess. When you see a competent employee respond immediately to constructive criticism, you know you have a star performer in the making. Achievement comes from being ruthless with ourselves.

Recognizes the importance of customers. Far too many of us have difficulty recognizing that customers can help or hurt a business. Yet most of us can recall a time when we stopped patronizing a business due to terrible customer service.

Engages with customers. They seek feedback, and consider and respond to what the customers are saying. Encourage employees to informally engage in dialogues with clients, and see how well the employees synthesize those conversations and translate them into improved processes or better goods and services.

Avoids overusing jargon. When someone speaks in heavily industry-specific jargon and acronyms, his purpose is to make himself sound smarter or to exclude others from participating in the conversation.

Jargon is a substitute for clear thinking and accurate communication. When you see or hear it, it should be a red flag.

Remains accessible. Walk the halls of most corporate offices and you can hear a pin drop. Employees engage in little talking—in person or over the telephone—primarily due to e-mail, instant messaging and texting. That’s not necessarily a problem, especially in cubicles where people should be respectful of others.

Star performers seek out productive employee interaction; they don’t shut their world to it.

However, an obnoxious trend has taken hold, especially among younger employees—earbuds. Employees who listen to music or online talk through earbuds send “do not disturb” messages. Earbuds have replaced closed office doors as signals from people who are not approachable. Just like knocking on a closed door, walking up to someone with earbuds is awkward.

Star performers seek out productive employee interaction; they don’t shut their world to it. While much office chatter can be trivial, the opportunity for interaction through personal, one-on-one conversation could lead to stimulating effective ways to understand someone else better and increase productivity.

These seven personal qualities are important in identifying star performers. A well-qualified, highly skilled employee who doesn’t possess them will not become a star performer—just like an employee who possesses these personal traits without the skills also won’t succeed. A star performer possesses a combination of both.

Graham is founder of GrahamComm, a marketing and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass. He can be reached via www.johnrgraham.com.

 

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