Whether your business is a startup or large corporation, you need at least a few superstars who can get things done, despite all the challenges and distractions in the world today. Certainly, we've all heard the excuses of those who can't or won't perform. We've heard the repeated demands on our time. Further, we've been frustrated by how long some people need to finish a task, and how few results we see from many of our team members.
That's why recognizing, hiring and retaining the most productive people is “job one” for every leader in every business. I have learned from my own years of experience in companies large and small that those people who are the smartest or have the best resume-style qualifications may not be the ones everyone counts on to get the most work done.
What non-resume qualities should a leader look for? Here are the key characteristics I prize:
Focuses on completion rather than blind adherence to a defined work process. Processes should be guidelines to achieve a result; they shouldn't just be a compliance road map. People who look for process innovations, to achieve the desired results in the quickest possible time frame, get more done. The maximum value should be on getting things done, where no process has yet been defined.
Knows how to read people and navigate organizational hierarchies. Working effectively with other people is the only way to get more done than any one person can accomplish. The same is true of working outside your organization, with the outside powers-that-be. Being able to work with politicians without becoming one is a trait I especially prize.
Makes non-threatening decisions with humility and patience. Highly emotional reactions and outbursts are rarely productive in business environments. Instead, calm and resolute determination generates support for the task at hand, rather than distracting from it. People who get things done should be aggressive but not confrontational.
Capitalizes on a powerful position title without using it as a stick. Effective leaders get more done by using their power position to ask for help, rather than assigning people to tasks. They know that listening and rewarding can often be more persuasive than giving orders with penalties for non-compliance.
Builds a reservoir of goodwill without asking for anything in return. Good business and good working relationships must always be seen as unconditional, meaning not motivated by an expectation of future payback. The result will be people and organizations wanting to help you, rather than feeling an obligation to contribute.
Acts within the existing culture, while working to improve it. New challenges should be seen as an incentive to be more creative, rather than an excuse to fail or pick a fight. People who get things done lead change by example, positively showing a better way within the culture. Culture change becomes voluntary, not forced.
Displays 'street smarts' and real domain experience. These are the people who can quickly provide examples of how they were personally able to overcome unusual challenges and achieve results. They also are proud to relate their experience in helping other people on their team overcome hurdles and achieve common objectives.
Overall, one of the best and most visible attributes of people who get the hard work done is that they love to be challenged, and get their satisfaction from resolving problems and getting results. The down side is that they may be easily bored, and quick to look for greater challenges elsewhere if you are not attentive with your leadership and organization, or reward the wrong things.
If your team is like many described in recent surveys -- where only 13 percent of the members surveyed described themselves as fully engaged -- you can bet that the rest will lack the characteristics needed to be the superstars that I have outlined here.
It may be time for you to take a hard look at your hiring, training and motivation systems, to improve your superstar hit ratio. The success of your business depends on it.