Here are 8 Ways to Spot Exceptional Employees

Keeping an eye out for these signs can help managers uncover the gems in their workforce.
By: | March 7, 2019 • 3 min read
identifying talent

Consider your superstar employees. What personality traits do they possess?

“When you think about your best employees, oftentimes, the stuff that identifies them is not necessarily the things that show up on performance evaluations,” says Jeff Haden, author of a new book titled The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up To Win.

“In large companies,” he says, “you have very detailed job descriptions and comprehensive performance evaluations. After a while, you lock into [the idea that] this is how we evaluate people. Sometimes, it’s hard to step outside of that because it’s the way you were trained to operate.”

As the former manager of a commercial printing plant that employed 1,000 workers, Haden identified eight signs (or characteristics) of exceptional employees that typically don’t jump off a resume or draw much attention during a performance review. Nonetheless, he says, observing these signs can help managers uncover the rough gems in their workforce.

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Take employees who think well beyond their job description. They’ll never say, “This isn’t my responsibility.” Without being asked, Haden says, they jump in with both feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities and do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

While they’re “easy to pick out and encourage,” he says managers who recognize and reward them can quickly spread desired behaviors throughout the workplace.

The second sign, however, isn’t as easy to spot and often overlooked. He points to employees who are “quirky.” They naturally stretch boundaries, challenge the status quo and offer unusual ideas. Managers miss out on “some really great people,” he says, if everyone they hire is alike. He says some of the best teams he led or served on included people with quirky personalities.

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Some workers also understand when to rein in their individuality, which is the third sign. Haden says these employees know when to conform, when to challenge and how to balance both, especially during stressful situations.

The fourth and fifth signs involve public praise and private disagreements. While exceptional employees praise coworkers, they disagree in private, especially when it involves controversial or sensitive subjects, to avoid “setting off a firestorm,” says Haden.

The last three signs involve employees who ask questions that others are too afraid to ask, tackle challenges when their ability is doubted and constantly explore new paths or solutions.

Still, some managers may perceive these signs as trendy. Haden says HR must explain how hiring or promoting such individuals can benefit them, their team and the company.

HR can start the conversation by asking managers to pick one sign that best describes them, he says, and then show how it helped improve a product, launch a service or keep a customer.

“This process must be benefit-driven,” Haden says, adding that most people can identify with at least one sign. “If HR can find ways that the signs benefit managers, they’ll be much more likely to embrace them.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]