I recently had the opportunity to meet David Sturt, author of the book Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love. As he describes in his piece for Forbes, last year Sturt’s firm the O.C. Tanner Institute conducted a fascinating study on high performance work. The organization studied 1.7 million people across all industries, positions, and pay-grades and illustrated that high-performance is less an outcome of traits, but more an outcome of activity.
What sets high performers apart isn’t a set of innate traits like perseverance, ambition, or intelligence, although those certainly help. Rather, high performers simply do things differently at work. O.C. Tanner found five specific activities high performers do to drive better results. These are:
Ask the right questions
Instead of adopting prevailing assumptions, high-performers pause and ask provoking questions that open up new lines of thinking. These questions include: “Why does this take so long?” “Why can’t we…” “What if we could…”
See how things work
High performers look at business and work in ways others haven’t. They always want to understand what’s working and what isn’t – and why. High performers enjoy taking a creation apart, searching for clues, and teasing out value.
Have “out of circle” conversations
High performers regularly talk to people outside their “inner circle” of friends and colleagues. They network in unusual ways and thrive on the ideas that result from gathering a variety of perspectives.
High performers have a knack for improvement because they don’t see things as fixed or immoveable. They are master experimenters, tinkering and testing until a product or process is fine-tuned to its full potential.
Make a difference
High performers focus on outcomes and specific results. Understanding cause and effect is important to them, and they persevere on a project until they uncover that “why.” High performers are also addicted to the joy of accomplishment – this alone is enough to propel them from one difference-making project to another.
What do the high performers at your organization do? Is it possible to be a high performer without having this mindset of exploration and continuous improvement? I tend to err on the side of supporting the status quo, and to be honest, this attitude often serves me well in terms of promotions and plum assignments. On the other hand, rocking the boat has held me back more than once. What has been your experience?