Five ways to turn any employee into a top performer

by HRD14 Aug 2017
Top performing employees can make a huge difference in the productivity of a work team. What is the difference between an average employee and a top performing employee?

According to a new study by leadership training firm VitalSmarts, employees rated by their managers as nines and tens on a ten-point performance scale are not only three times  more valuable than the average exmployee, but are also responsible for 61% of the total work done in their departments.

One might think that high productivity means haggard workers. But the study found that 83% of managers and 77% of peers say these top performers’ are less stressed than their coworkers. Respondents found that the top performers didn’t necessarily work harder – they worked smarter.

Asked to describe the work habits of these workers, respondents used these phrases most commonly:

Communication Practices:
  • Top Performers: "Ask for help," "Not afraid to ask questions," "Know who to go to," "Know when to ask"
  • Average Performers: "Lack of communication," "Slow to respond," "Don't listen," "Complain"
Productivity Practices:
  • Top Performers: "Organized," "Good time management," "Attention to detail," "To do lists," "Keep track of," "Block time on their calendar," "Prioritize," "Stay on top of their work"
  • Average Performers: "Not enough time," "Lack of attention," "No follow through," "Too busy," "Late," "Disorganized," "Don't meet deadlines," "Not on task"
"The message in this research is that a very small number of self-management practices literally change a person's life and are also beneficial to the organization," said David Maxfield, a lead researcher at VitalSmarts. "They dramatically improve performance while also reducing stress."

By helping employees engender a few productivity practices, employers can ensure all their workers are their best workers. These are the five things every top performer practices:
  1. Collect everything that owns your attention. Capture all commitments, tasks, ideas, and projects rather than keeping them in your head. Use just a few "capture tools" you keep with you all the time such as lists, apps, email, etc.
  2. Decide what your stuff means to you. Clarify if the items you've captured have an action or not. If they do, be very clear about what the VERY next action is and who should take it.
  3. Use the two-minute rule. If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Don't defer. The time you'll waste letting these simple actions occupy your attention and to-do list is not worth it—two minutes becomes your efficiency cutoff.
  4. Do more of the right things by reflecting in the right moments. Rather than diving into your messy inbox first thing, take two minutes to review your calendar and your action lists. This reflection ensures you make the best decisions about how to use your time.
  5. Review weekly. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to re-sync, get current, and align your daily work and projects with your higher-level priorities.
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