What's the difference between a high performing professional and an average performing employee?
High performers stand out because they:
Are more productive, motivated, and engaged in their work. They're able to remain focused on quality issues even when tasks become routine, and don't need as much oversight from managers.
Are internally driven by a desire to achieve goals and objectives. High performers are more ambitious than average workers, and tend to focus on how they can better themselves rather than simply waiting for changes to be made for them.
Achieve higher levels of success at work. They consistently exceed expectations for their job roles, are delegated new tasks with ease, and are first in line for promotions or pay raises.
Exude loyalty—unless it goes unreciprocated from their employers. High performers expect a fair amount of reciprocity in their workplace relationships; they will be as loyal as you allow them to be.
But high performers also have the highest standards — not only in themselves — but in their workplace, environment and employer. It's why they're often the most unsettled. And, today, it's why they're quitting in droves.
1. They expect respect
High performers are people, too. They have their own human needs and desires. When those needs aren’t met, the results can be devastating for both the employee and the company. The result: They quit and move on.
But it isn't always so dramatic.
Many determined high performers will work in sub-optimal conditions for a long time before quitting, and if leaders aren't smart — they'll quickly take them for granted. If high performers don't feel valued or respected, they will look for better opportunities elsewhere—and eventually find them.
What constitutes disrespect? Let's look at a few examples:
The company frequently ignores their ideas in favor of ideas from less talented, "louder" employees. Or worse—they pretend like their idea was someone else's all along.
The employer consistently treats them as though they're the only one capable of handling difficult tasks — often loading the hardest responsibilities onto the high-performing employee even when they're not compensated for taking on the heavier lift.
The company rarely promotes or nurtures the high performer. They only dish out lukewarm feedback on their performance instead of constructive advice on how to improve in ways that would make them more promotable.
2. They expect high-quality leadership
High achievers want to be led by competent, high-quality leaders. Why else would they work so hard?
High performers usually have a strong desire to rise up in their organization. They look to leadership as role models for what they aspire to. In fact they feed on it. If leaders are failing in their eyes, they'll look elsewhere. And, for good reason.
In contrast, when leadership shines, high performers do, as well. It's that simple. Those at the top inspire those aspiring to be at the top.
3. They expect (the right kind of) challenges
You'll find that high-performers are drawn to challenges. In this context, the word "challenge" refers to anything that puts a person's skill and training to the test in a productive way.
A challenge provides a sense of purpose. It's an opportunity for someone to use their skills and expertise in order to achieve something great.
High achievers thrive on these types of opportunities. Without them, they become bored and stagnant.
Unfortunately, many organizations fail to provide interesting challenges for their star professionals. In fact, many companies are so poorly run that they end up providing toxic challenges instead.
Good work challenges for top performers:
working on a project that requires them to learn new skills
solving a problem for a client that is complicated and requires a lot of research and thought
working on a project that taps into their experience and allows for knowledge sharing and collaboration
Toxic challenges for top performers:
forcing them to make up for their "dead weight" peers
not allowing for efficiency or effectiveness for the sake of outdated procedures or thinking
working for managers and leaders who fail to listen — time and time again
4. They expect alignment with the company's values or ethics
Alignment is the degree of overlap between an employee’s values and the company’s culture, business practices, and work requirements.
Examples include meaningful work, work/life balance, communication expectations, and time requirements
Companies often have a process for uncovering and documenting their "deal-breaker" values. But, sadly, high performers rarely flesh this out and wonder why they can't seem to find happiness in any work situation. If anyone needs to delve deep into their values, it's the high performer!
5. They expect respect of personal space and time
One of the biggest myths about high-performers is that they don’t want or value balance. While this may be true for some, most still desire a personal life outside of work, but are more prone to having their boundaries crossed by employers.
The pandemic made it glaringly apparent how important flexibility can be to employees. Too many employers are still grappling with this, as it’s a cultural issue rooted in expectations and the example set by leaders at the top.
6. They expect an understanding that it's not all about the money
Let me repeat that. It's not all about the money.
High performers value fair compensation just like anyone else. But unlike their average performing peers, they work for reasons far beyond the money. It's about an inspiring mission, making a difference, work-life balance, career growth, learning opportunities, flexibility, autonomy, and so much more.
Years ago, I was faced with a decision to leave my employer or stay. I was a high-performer who was producing outstanding results yet I was considered a "troublemaker" for trying to raise the standards of the company. I was never valued as much as my more "agreeable" colleagues who were not "rocking the boat." After several attempts to make things better, I handed in my resignation letter.
The response from this employer was to throw thousands of dollars at me in hopes that it would keep me around. The move backfired as it only revealed that I was underpaid and they perceived my resignation as an ultimatum. I don't play those games. They didn't know how to retain top talent except to throw money at people in hopes they'll stick around! The issues with this employer went far deeper than any dollar could reach. Yet, they were too tone deaf to simply ask, "What else can we do?"
Many of our ALU members are in positions where they make great money but are unhappy otherwise. Whether it's personal life aspirations, their passions, or dreams they're trying to bring to life — they often decide to pursue other opportunities that won't pay quite as much but will provide greater fulfillment instead.
For many, it's God placing something new on their hearts. In other words, their calling is calling. And it won't shut up.
It's time for high performers to recognize they're not broken. They're invaluable.
High performers are extremely valuable. They are problem solvers, they take initiative, they take on more work than their colleagues. In short, they’re the employees companies want most. However, high performers aren’t going to stick around if it’s not in their best interest. If a high performer is unhappy at an organization, then it won’t be long until they move on to greener pastures.
Are you a high-performer trapped in yet another job that just doesn't cut it?
Perhaps it's time to get some perspective and recognize that you're too good for most organizations. There...I said it. But, have you thought about your next steps? Should you go out on your own? Buckle down on finally finding the right place? Either way, it's important to surround yourself with other professionals who are rethinking and reinventing how they make a living.