What outstanding employees do not know

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 23

Outstanding employees are talent management’s favorite focus: how can we get more outstanding employees? How can we turn our current employees into outstanding employees? How can we turn all employees into outstanding employees (but pay them based on a bell curve to make many of them feel like they are failing…)?

So those talent finders find outstanding employees through performance appraisals, resumes, reputation — and the research microscope starts up, the questions start, the poised pen waits for the answers, and then…nothing. Then answers are boring, the insights from the outstanding employees are not there and the talent finders discover their frustration.

This is understandable. Talent finders forget — or don’t understand — something basic about people and the strengths they have: people do not understand that what they think is incredibly easy for them is very hard for others.

We don’t understand our strengths

In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Gallop found that most people miss that what is easy for them is hard for others — and what is easy is the strength. People who understand process flows and what influences them think that is easy. Others look at a chart of a process flow and become overwhelmed. Other people will dive into working on a car engine because it is so easy and others can’t find the hood lock to even see the engine.

Because what we do everyday is easy, we never see it as a strength. In fact, to understand our strengths, we often need to ask other people to get their perspective. “What do I bring to the team that you value the most?” “What is it about problem-solving that you find helpful in my work?” Other people see our strengths so we need to ask them.

We can’t describe our strengths

Even if we get to the point of knowing a strength — a process savant — we can’t describe why we are so good at using our strength. We just…do it. We just look at a problem and…know how to fix it.

Plus, the better we get at our strength, the less we are able to describe it. We get more and more of what we do well, see more and more problems and fix them, and then we reach a point where all that context magically produces results. We can’t explain why. After ten thousand hours of practice, one starts to forget more than most people know about our area of expertise.

We have small differences to others — that add up

If you ask the outstanding employee what they do and then watch what they actually do, the differences can seem pretty small. But, as Leon Noone notes in What Outstanding Employees do: Don’t just ask, watch and then ask:

The differences between “say” and “do” are usually small. But the influence or value of these small things is huge. The exemplar may not consider them important. But over a season, the difference between hitting 65% and 75% from the free throw line is a lot of points.

Now, the important point here is that you, as an individual, need to figure out your strengths and then make those strengths so overwhelming to your weaknesses that employers will hire you just to have your strengths. Usually, though, we don’t even understand what strengths we bring to the workplace, much less how to improve them.

Talk to your team. Ask them how they see your work; what strengths you bring to the team. If they say something and you go to yourself, “but, that’s easy,” you just found a strength you bring to your work. Find a few and you have a package. Have a package and you are one step closer to employment security.

  • I think this is very accurate. In my years in business I would also like to add that outstanding employees are simply rare in and of themselves.

  • A very interesting write up!

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