The 8 Defining Qualities of Top Talent

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Over the years, ERC has researched what distinguishes a top performer from an average performer based on employers' perspectives. The results are strikingly consistent across industries and sizes. Regardless of the organization type, most employers define top performers very similarly and are looking for the same types of characteristics and behaviors in their employees.

What makes top talent different from average talent? Typically, these eight key qualities. 

1. They achieve results.

Top performers consistently achieve results and make positive contributions to their organizations. They "wow" customers, produce quality work, improve productivity, make good decisions, and model the right behaviors that lead to their success. They remain committed to excelling at their work despite challenges, and try different ideas and strategies to improve their results.

2. They're a go-to person.

Top performers are sought-after employees in the organization - not only because of their impressive knowledge and talents, but because they are easy to work with and dependable. They tend to be well-respected and valued by others in the organization for their abilities, insights, and perhaps creativity. They are often technical and functional experts that others can rely on to do the work well. They know their stuff and have a good reputation. They help other employees solve their problems.

3. They go above and beyond.

This is the classic differentiator of a top performer. Top talent do more than is expected and required in small and large ways. They seek opportunities to expand their responsibilities, challenge and develop themselves, and go above and beyond their jobs and to meet others' needs - including those of their coworkers and customers. They also typically perform above goals and standards.

4. They take initiative.

Top performers don't wait for someone to tell them to do a task. They begin new assignments before they are told, look for work to fill spare time, explore ways to solve problems or challenges, see new opportunities, volunteer for extra tasks, and can work well with little supervision.  They anticipate what needs to be done and make suggestions for how to add value, do things better, and work more efficiently. They act like a leader even when it may not be their job.

5. They're self-motivated.

Top performers usually don't need to be motivated in order to get the job done and done well. Their motivation is self-driven. They know their passions, interests, and priorities and pursue work that aligns with those. They typically have a purpose, set their goals high, and are persistent in reaching them. Their self-motivation fuels lifelong learning and development. They don't need to be told to develop skills because they usually are already taking steps to make themselves more valuable to the organization.

6. They think big-picture.

Unlike average performers, you can count on top performers to "get it." They strive to understand the organization's direction and goals and think beyond their immediate job. They may suggest enhancements to other areas of the organization, help coworkers or other departments, and align their personal objectives and priorities with those of the organization. They display an interest in helping the organization move forward and ask for opportunities to impact the organization.

7. They are a team player.

Top performers get along with others. They are able to collaborate with their colleagues and are cooperative with the needs of their team and organization, showing adaptability and flexibility to change and openness to others' views. They care about and are willing to pitch in and help their colleagues. They can balance both team and individual priorities. Top performers cultivate positive relationships with coworkers and customers, actively participate, communicate constructively, and are consistent and reliable.

8. They have integrity.

Great performers have integrity, and as a result, can be trusted by their peers and superiors. They can be counted on to exhibit the highest degree of ethics and honesty. They communicate and act with sincerity and dependability, saying what they mean and meaning what they say and doing what they say they will do. People consider them to be genuine individuals with the right motives.

If you're trying to achieve great things at your organization, it's critically important to hire and keep top performers with these qualities. Once you have the right people on the bus, you'll find that your organization spends less time managing performance and more time enabling it, less time disciplining and more time developing, and less time creating and enforcing policies and more time building a culture that attracts and keeps the best people.

Additional Resources

NorthCoast 99
NorthCoast 99 is an annual recognition program that honors 99 great workplaces for top talent in Northeast Ohio. If your organization is interested in being recognized as a best place to work in 2012 and thinks it excels at attracting and retaining top performers, please click here to begin your application today and join us for a free informative program to kick off this year's application process. 

Benchmark Reports
Interested in targeted metrics for top performers and benchmarking how your organization's practices for attracting and retaining top talent compare to others in the region? Please take a look at our benchmark reports which provide tons of information on great workplaces and top performers.

Staffing & Recruitment Services
Looking for better ways to source and select top talent and help finding exceptional performers? Consider using ERC's consulting and assessment services. Additionally, our network of Preferred Partners provides several discounts and cost savings on staffing and recruitment services that can help your organization save money.