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There’s a somewhat scientific formula to standing out at work.
Last year, leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman collected upward of 50,000 360-degree evaluations conducted over five years on more than 4,000 individual employees.
They looked specifically at the leadership behaviors that distinguished “good” performers (those rated at the 40th to 70th percentile) from the “best” performers (those rated at the 90th percentile and above).
Results showed that the best performers were rated a whopping 43 percentage points more productive than average performers.
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, respectively, outline their findings in The Harvard Business Review. As it turns out, there are nine key skills that separate the cream of the crop from everyone else.
The following list is ranked in reverse order of which had the most impact on evaluations.
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9. Providing honest feedback
People typically assume that it’s a manager’s job to give feedback, so employees who are willing to give feedback to their coworkers can stand out, Zenger and Folkman write.
It’s not a matter of chastising people, but of raising new questions and offering suggestions based on what has helped you in the past. In other words, you don’t criticize others so much as support them.
In general, experts say, you should consistently offer positive and negative feedback and explain why you’re giving it. Especially when pointing out something they could have done better, make sure to ask what the person needs from you in order to help them improve.
8. Being resilient
According to Paul Schoemaker, research director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, most people overreact to their mistakes at work. As a result, they end up trying to hide them or to continue behaviors that have already proven unproductive.
But Zenger/Folkman’s research found that the best employees are quick to recognize their missteps and learn from them.
Likewise, they don’t dwell on other people’s errors.
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7. Using good judgment
When making decisions, top performers weigh each alternative carefully and consider the potential effects of each, Zenger and Folkman find.
They conduct research instead of simply taking a chance, and understand that the impact of their choices could be huge for the company.
The first step to making wise decisions is understanding the biases that can get in the way – from overestimating the importance of information that’s available to listening only to the information that confirms your preconceptions.
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6. Staying accountable
The best employees follow through on all the commitments they make to their teams.
Zenger and Folkman say it’s not just forgetfulness when you fail to make good on your word – it’s dishonesty, and it can make you seem less competent.
To hold yourself accountable for all your promises, it’s important to identify your motivation, or a clear reason why the task should be done, writes Kevin Daum at Inc. You’ll also want to be aware of the consequences for completing the task and leaving it unfinished.
Finally, he suggests, make sure you have a one-page plan in place, complete with deadlines, for achieving your goal.
5. Taking initiative
Instead of waiting for direction, Zenger and Folkman find that top performers offer their opinion and assistance.
It’s about going beyond your job description and helping out with bigger projects underway at your company.
At Fast Company, leadership professional Anush Kostanyan writes that sometimes this means sharing your ideas instead of assuming no one will want to hear them. Other times it means asking lots of questions, which will allow you to generate additional ideas and ways to help.
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4. Embracing change
One of Zenger/Folkman’s clients cited a “frozen middle” of employees who resist organizational change.
You can stand out from this group by welcoming necessary change in strategy, no matter how much inconvenience it causes.
More recent research by Zenger/Folkman found that welcoming novelty is a key contributor to leadership effectiveness. So if you’re looking to get promoted to management, this trait could be crucial for you to demonstrate.
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3. Volunteering to represent the group
Star employees take advantage of opportunities to represent their teams to other departments or organizational units.
Zenger and Folkman say it benefits them, too, because it’s a chance to network and learn beyond the scope of their individual role.
Just make sure you smile when you meet your colleagues for the first time.
2. Working collaboratively
The ability to work as a team was a key distinction between average and top performers, Zenger and Folkman found.
Some employees may believe that their contributions are more likely to be recognized if they work alone. High performers understand that an organization can achieve more if everyone pools their skills and talents.
In fact, at least one personality assessment that measures leadership potential factors in the capacity for teamworking and team-building. For those hoping to work their way up the corporate ladder, the ability to work well with others is key.
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1. Setting stretch goals
Top employees set and achieve goals that exceed others’ expectations, and encourage coworkers to do the same. And recently, Zenger and Folkman found that setting the bar high – and reaching it – is a core component of effective management.
Less successful employees and managers are what Zenger and Folkman call “sandbaggers.” In other words, they may only meet expectations because they worry that if they complete all their tasks ahead of time, they’ll be rewarded with even more work.
Zenger and Folkman say it’s therefore important for organizations to recognize employees’ contributions when they go above and beyond, instead of simply piling more tasks on their plate.