Working Life

9 traits separate star staff from rest: Study

Stretching work goals, taking initiative and being resilient are some of the traits that distinguish best employees from the good ones at work, a study has found.

The study, conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman over a period of five years involving more than 4,000 employees, looked specifically at leadership behaviours that distinguished the "best" performers from the rest.

Results showed that the best performers were rated a whopping 43 percentage points more productive than average performers.

Outlining their findings in the Harvard Business Review, Zenger Folkman CEO Jack Zenger and its president Joseph Folkman found there were nine key skills that separated the cream of the crop from the rest.

Best employees set stretch goals and adopt high standards for themselves, the authors said, drawing a contrast with average workers who conclude that producing great work and doing it quickly means more work.

Where average contributors find problem-solving and possessing professional expertise as the most important attributes of any individual employee, the best workers characterised working collaboratively and fostering teamwork as most necessary, the study found.

Volunteering to represent the group was also an important trait of best employees as they see it as a chance to network and learn beyond the scope of their individual role. They are also first to embrace change, Zenger Folkman found, no matter how much inconvenience it causes.

Star employees also take the initiative instead of waiting for direction, the study said, going beyond their job description and helping out in any way they can. But, then again, they also stay accountable, following up on all other commitments they make to the team.

"To hold yourself accountable for all your promises, it's important to identify your motivation, or a clear reason why the task should be done," writes Mr Kevin Daum at Inc. You will also want to be aware of the consequences both for completing the task and leaving it unfinished.

Researching before making decisions, and understanding consequences is a rule for star employees, who also do not dwell on other people's errors.

According to Mr Paul Schoemaker, research director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, most people overreact to their mistakes at work. As a result, they end up trying to hide them or to continue behaviours that have already proven unproductive.

"Best employees learn from their mistakes," the study said.

Lastly, they can stand out by providing honest feedback to their co-workers, Zenger and Folkman write. "It's not a matter of chastising people, but of raising new questions and offering suggestions based on what has helped you in the past. In other words, you don't criticise others so much as support them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2015, with the headline '9 traits separate star staff from rest: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe