How to Identify or Create Top Performers

  • You can read books and blogs, buy step-by-step guides, or invest in expensive software in hopes of helping to promote ‘top performer’ behaviors.
  • Or you can focus on improving mediocre or average performers through training session after training session.
  • Or you can load up on green energy drinks that claim to be the source of fuel to drive top performers.

As is often the case with important management topics, there are a lot of opinions and options to address making managers and their people the top performers we all so desperately need.  In fact, the list of possible solutions is overwhelming.  While it is clear that certain behaviors contribute to strong performance; organization, goal setting and good communication skills focus on high priority activities. However, there are other attributes that also drive top performance.  It’s not enough to just prepare and practice the behaviors to make an effective presentation if it’s not packaged with the ability to understand and adapt to a changing environment.

In a recent blog, Lynette Ryals and Javier Marcos discuss what new skills are needed to succeed in sales.  Although their research findings are specific to the sales industry, I believe they apply to other arenas as well.  Their article reviews how today’s customers have access to more information about products and services, are looking for items that meet their individual needs, and are unwilling to waste time on salespeople who don’t listen or do little more than walk in and present a piece of literature to a prospect and think they are done with the sales process.

They suggest that to be successful, today’s salespeople need to rethink their role and be prepared to understand and discuss the business climate, appreciate the complexity of the purchaser’s organization and business relationships, work effectively with all the players involved in the decision (both those within their own organization and at the customer site), and be able to see beyond the current opportunity.  Traditional selling skills are highlighted as no longer being included in the key attributes of successful sales people.  It is now more important than ever that people who expect to succeed have a thorough knowledge of their industry (not just their own product), their clients’ issues and priorities and sensitivity to the relationships that affect decision making.

I’m involved in the evaluation of a prospective new service provider at our company, and I appreciate that they have asked questions to better understand our needs, suggested ways we can keep within our time and budget constraints, and been willing to share information about competitive and complementary services.  These people clearly got the message about meeting the expectations of today’s customers.

In their book “Top Performer: A Bold Approach to Sales and Service by Stephen Lundin and Carr Hagerman, key attributes of success are labeled differently, but share the same philosophy as Ryals and Marcos.  Top performers must have “energy” which they claim is derived from human interaction.  They indicate that a true interaction isn’t rehearsed or routine, but represents open and meaningful communication.  Generating the energy that creates success comes from being able to connect with the “audience” through unique, focused interaction; not through a scripted presentation or grab bag of arguments that may not fit the current situation.  In order to do that, top performers not only have to be masters of their own business, but they should be able to quickly assess and adjust to relate to the audience.

This focus on knowledge, understanding and adaptation serves not only salespeople, but almost all types of business interactions.  How often have you been called in to manage a conflict only to discover that one party ends up by saying, “I didn’t know that?”  In contrast, top performers tend to ask a series of questions about a situation before jumping in and try to understand what happens outside their immediate job or they make an effort to learn.

So why don’t we have more top performers?  Too often, organizations or people are so focused on their own issues that they don’t appreciate alternative views or concerns.  Job descriptions rarely say that it’s important to know the other guy’s job in addition to your own.  It’s time consuming to stay educated on industry trends, competitive forces, or issues effecting your clients or markets.  And there’s often enough to do just staying on top of new initiatives or programs affecting your own job.

Finding a way to engage in activities that expand your knowledge base or connect you with resources to keep you on top of business or industry trends pays off in the long run. You will quickly find yourself more integrated into your own organization or more valued in your interactions with business partners.  If you also provide, encourage or support the education, development or training of your employees, you are ready to build your own team of top performers.

By, Nancy Lane, Human Resource Manager at Red Book Solutions and B2A, LLC – 30 years of experience in education, medical imaging, oil & gas and business services.


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