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A Better Way To Find And Retain Top Performers

written byRaymond Honingson 24/11/2015

Retaining Staff

A lot of research was conducted to figure out why some people are top performers. Surprisingly, having talent was not one of the differentiators and yet many companies keep looking for talent. Geoffrey Colvin wrote a book on this topic called “Talent is overrated”. In this book, Colvin explains how people become outstanding at what they do. He describes what it takes to BECOME truly great. But is it possible to find that one person (talent?) who has an above average chance to become a high performer in your company?  

Companies still use a lot of “scientifically proven” tests when trying to find out if someone has talent to succeed in their line of business. The next step is to have these so called talents be a part of talent development programs. If you take time to analyze the ROI of these tests and development programs you will begin question their overall effectiveness.  

Just because someone has a natural ability to perform well in a specific area doesn’t mean they will make it in the long run.

In this article I want to examine two different aspects of figuring out who your top performers might be; but before I do this, let me share two stories.   Years ago, when I was still very active in sports, there was this guy who was outperforming everyone else. He was what you might call a “natural talent.” After a while, he made it to the professional elite in his field of sport. Then all of a sudden he quit. A few years after he quit, he was mentioned in an article as one of the best players compared to those who both made it and stayed. at the highest professional level.   Another story is about a manager who was really good at managing daily operations. He had an eye for detail, people-centered approach, and was always looking for improvement. Despite the fact that everyone was happy with his work, after 4 years of employment he quit his job.  

Both stories show that looking first for talent alone is simply not enough. Talent is just a small aspect of finding that one person who will do a great job. Organizations need to look for at least two more aspects, which in my opinion are more important than talent:  

  1. Drivers (values)
  2. Operating preferences (how the brain is wired)

When it comes to drivers you need to figure out what is important to that specific person. If there is not enough alignment between values needed for the job and their personal values, you will lose that person in the long run. Here is an example. If a person values playfulness but there is no room for it in his/her job you have a recipe for eventual failure. With a value (elicitation) test employers can easily figure out a person’s values.  

When you figure out someone’s operating preferences, you can also identify general, pervasive, and habitual patterns used by that person across a wide range of situations. In other words, you can explore how they perceive the world around them and how this influences their communication with others, and the behaviors they manifest. To illustrate this, here is a simple example. A person whose preference is to communicate and work with a great amount of detail will find it very stressful to come up with a vision within a span of 2 hours. Another operating preference can be someone’s learning preference. These are various ways to figure out these preferences like NLP Meta programs, MBTI and LIFO. I like the ones that can be used in an informal (“over a cup of coffee”) way.  

In these examples, both people demonstrated to be talented in the area they were active in. However, their heart was not in it. Their deepest needs (values and preferences) were not met. As such, they didn’t succeed in their environment.   There is an easier way to spot potential top performers. It is called modeling excellence. You can do this within your own organization. The companies who apply this method have a greater success rate in hiring and retaining top performers. Here are some easy steps to achieve this:  

  1. Find at least 3 top performers in the area where you need to hire people.
  2. Determine the drivers/values of your top performers
  3. Identify the operating preferences
  4. Use the output of 2 and 3 to conduct an interview
  5. If there is a match between drivers/values and operating preferences, hire that person

Sometimes there can be more reasons why you want to hire someone that is completely different than the people you already have. You can still use the output of step 2 and 3 to make sure you hire the right person. Looking for the right person with this approach will help you find people who will more engaged in the work they do, and with high engagement comes high performance.