9 Traits of High Performers (And Tips on How To Become One)

Updated May 28, 2023

Two employees talk to each other while sitting at a table.

High-performing employees achieve their goals and improve the companies they work for. People recognize them as being accountable, skilled and able to get things done. If you are working to improve your professional abilities and want to be perceived as a strong asset, you may be interested in finding out how to become a top-performing employee. 

In this article, we discuss what a high performer is and why they matter, nine characteristics of high performers, tips for becoming a high performer at work and frequently asked questions about high performers.

What is a high performer?

A high performer is someone who goes above and beyond to achieve their goals and complete their tasks or assignments at work. This type of person takes initiative and focuses on improving their workplace habits and behaviors so that the company or team benefits from their actions. They’re considerate team players and their superiors and colleagues can count on them, and often take on more work and leadership tasks than their role requires.

What makes for a high performer?

In an Indeed survey conducted by Decipher/FocusVision, employers were asked what attribute their highest performer exemplified most. The top five answers were:

  • Problem-solving: Ability to define a problem and then determine and implement a solution

  • Communication: Effectively conveys ideas to others

  • Self-direction: Self-starter, someone who initiates new assignments and challenges

  • Drive: Desire to succeed, goes above and beyond what is asked of them

  • Adaptability/flexibility: The ability to be flexible in a changing environment, take on new tasks

Image description

This bar graph shows the results of an Indeed employer study that asked employers to identify the attributes most associated with their top performers. It includes the following responses in descending order: problem-solving (75%), communication (65%), self-direction (64%), drive (61%), adaptability/flexibility (59%), passion (58%), strategic thinking (57%), initiative (55%), collaboration (42%), coachability (41%), ownership (36%) and intellectual curiosity (36%).

Why is retaining high performers important?

High performers are better for business because they tend to drive a disproportional amount of impact in the workplace. In fact, one study found that 10% of productivity comes from the top 1% of employees and 26% of output is a product of the top 5%. The same study also found that top performers tend to be four times as productive as the average worker. High-performing employees also impact a company's culture as they're more likely to choose a new job based on a company's reputation and opportunities for meaningful work.

Related: How to Be a Better Employee

9 qualities of high performers

Here are nine qualities and attributes of people who perform well in the workplace:

1. Focuses on their goals

Top-performing employees focus their time and energy on their goals. They may start each week and each day by assessing their personal and professional expectations and aspirations and aligning their workplace behavior accordingly. When facing a sales-related or task-related decision, they base their response on whether their choice will help them reach their goals. Centering their daily actions and decisions around this idea helps people prepare for performance reviews and evaluations.

2. Keeps a positive demeanor

Top performers have good people skills and are positive when interacting with others. This applies when they are speaking with a superior, team member or someone that reports to them. High performers know that a person's attitude affects their environment.

This is why when assigned a challenging task, they don't complain. Rather, they stay positive and focus on what needs to happen to overcome a challenge. Additionally, when working with team members or colleagues, they exude positivity and try to influence others to do the same.

Related: 15 Ways To Develop and Maintain a Positive Attitude at Work

3. Shows consistent effort

Top-performing employees are reliable and always give their best efforts. They have a well-developed work routine, and they have positive workplace habits. Other people can always count on them to complete their tasks and achieve their goals. Their consistent and regular effort is professional and offers other employees something to strive for.

Related: How To Set Goals (And What To Do When You Achieve Them)

4. Has a strong skill set

A person's workplace skill set refers to their technical knowledge or subject expertise as well as their interpersonal and relational abilities. Top-performing employees are highly capable and are skilled in both areas. They are strong problem solvers who work well with others, and their industry-related ability and flexibility help them perform well under pressure.

5. Accepts constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is designed to help people improve. Top performers in the workplace are able to accept constructive criticism and feedback well. They focus their energy on remembering the benefits of receiving feedback. They take into consideration who is offering advice or opinions, and they try to grow from them.

When receiving feedback, top performers try not to take things personally. Instead, they ask engaging questions to make sure they understand how to make improvements. They also make proactive steps and plans to act on the suggested improvements. Finally, a top performer realizes that the time a superior takes to offer constructive criticism is an investment in their own success. For this reason, they always express their gratitude for the feedback.

Related: Giving and Receiving Feedback: Definition and Examples

6. Looks for professional growth opportunities

Professional growth opportunities include continuing education, skills-based training, research and additional responsibilities. Top-performing employees are always seeking out these types of career development opportunities. They know that attending workshops or seminars can help them gain skills, qualifications and confidence to perform better at work.

Here's a list of seven things a person can do to grow and develop professionally:

  • Find a mentor.

  • Read industry-related books.

  • Enroll in a webinar or seminar.

  • Earn an in-demand certificate.

  • Participate in a workshop.

  • Ask for feedback from a colleague or manager.

  • Participate in an industry-related online community.

Related: 12 Types of Continuing Education

7. Offers respect to all people

This type of employee knows that it's important to offer respect to everyone they work with, regardless of title or position. They are courteous to people and considerate. They say hello to other employees and smile. Top performers at work listen attentively when people speak to them, and they are affirming and kind. They show their respect for others by using language that is inclusive and accepting, and they try to lift others up by being polite and helpful.

Related: Inclusive Culture: 5 Ways To Foster Inclusivity at Work

8. Acts like a leader

A workplace leader is someone who uses their skills and experience to guide or manage other people. Top performers always act like leaders, even if they don't have official leadership positions. This means that they set good examples and they take an interest in the success of others.

When a colleague or co-worker asks for help, a top performer is happy to assist. They offer guidance or support graciously and they follow through on their commitments. Additionally, when a superior is looking for someone to lead a team or manage a project, they're likely to volunteer for the position.

Related: 19 Ways To Identify Potential Leaders in the Workplace

9. Finds a healthy work-life balance

A healthy work-life balance represents the way a person prioritizes their professional goals and desires with the desires and aspirations they have for their personal life. Top performers know that having a healthy work-life balance, and ensuring that they take time for themselves, is crucial for establishing sustainable routines and performance outcomes. They are consistent in their work efforts, but they take sick days when they're sick and schedule vacation time to recenter or reset.

Read more: 10 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance

Tips for becoming a high performer at work

Here are some helpful tips you can use to become a high performer in your career:

Give yourself a performance review

A performance review is something that your employer typically does to assess your ability at work. These are usually formal evaluations, and they may happen once a month, once a quarter or once a year. When trying to achieve like a top performer, give yourself an evaluation the way that your boss or reporting manager would. Think about your actions and behaviors and try to assess whether they're helping you reach your workplace performance goals and productivity standards.

Related: How To Write a Performance Review Self-Assessment

Set personal performance goals

Most job roles include professional goals and standards that reflect a person's productivity or workplace impact. Meeting those goals and standards is the first step to being recognized as a top performer. The next step is to set a couple of additional performance goals for yourself.

You can use the insight you gain from your personal performance review to help you identify the areas that you can improve upon. Choose one or two areas to improve on at a time and hold yourself accountable by writing specific actions you can take to help you achieve these personal goals. For example, if you realize that your email communication could be more timely, then plan on designating three specific times in the day for checking emails and responding to messages.

Related: Self-Performance Review Goals: Benefits and Examples

Organize your workplace

Take some time to tidy and organize the physical place where you do most of your work. A clean and organized workspace helps people to keep track of their assignments and helps people focus. Here are four steps for getting organized at work:

  • Clean: The first step to take in organizing your office is to get rid of any unnecessary items.

  • Prioritize: Make a list of the most important aspects of your job. Think about the tasks and responsibilities you have, and evaluate which things are most important and which things take up most of your time. It is important that you create a well-organized system for completing the tasks that you spend the most time on.

  • Categorize: Use color coding, files, bins or other organizational tools to categorize and organize physical or digital files. You can also create a space for a to-do list and a professional calendar.

  • Plan: Use your list of important tasks and responsibilities to help you develop a plan for your daily routine. Look at your newly organized space and decide how you can best use it to complete your tasks in assignments efficiently. Thinking about this plan or strategy ahead of time will help you maintain a tidy and efficient workspace.

Related: 10 Examples of Organization in the Workplace

Align personal and professional behaviors

Think about your personal behaviors and actions outside of work. Take some time to reflect honestly on whether your actions and habits in your personal life help or hinder your professional life. Making a few minor changes to your personal routine can have a positive impact on your success and performance at work.

For example, if rushing around in the morning sometimes makes you late for work, you might consider changing the way you get ready. Preparing your work attire the night before or setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier may help you be more punctual. Here is a list of positive personal behaviors that can improve your professional life:

  • Setting an alarm for work

  • Choosing healthier meals and hydrating

  • Getting adequate and regular sleep

  • Making positive connections with friends and family

  • Finding an enjoyable hobby or activity

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Practicing self-love

Related: 51 Habits of Highly Successful People and Why They Work

Practice better communication

Workplace communication refers to a person's ability to convey their thoughts, ideas or directions through written or spoken language. To become a top performer, you need to work well with others and lead with efficiency. Practicing active listening and reviewing your emails before you send them can help you learn to communicate better.

Additionally, you can also ask people for formal or informal feedback on how well you communicate. Honest feedback from a trusted friend or colleague can help you identify areas that need improvement.

Read more: 12 Effective Communication Strategies To Use at Work

Limit your distractions

Too many distractions can hinder a person's productivity and performance at work. You can limit distractions by avoiding unnecessary web searches or scrolling, setting your personal phone on silent or do not disturb mode and limiting lengthy meetings and phone calls. You can also reduce the time you spend with unnecessary distractions by planning small breaks in your day.

Related: Tips To Help You Focus When You're Distracted Easily at Work

Reward yourself for a job well done

Most people respond well to incentives and rewards. To become a top performer. You need to be reliable and complete all of your tasks and assignments. You can use a personal reward system to help you stay on track.

When designing your reward system, think of small things that make you happy—the incentives you choose don't have to be expensive. For example, you may choose the goal of arriving early to work three days a week. If you meet that goal, you can invite some friends over for a movie night or order a treat from your favorite bakery.

Related: Rewards and Incentives in the Workplace (Advantages and Examples)

Frequently asked questions

How can companies recruit high performers?

According to a 2018 Indeed survey, 90% of top performers say that they search for job opportunities at least a few times a year.

Here are three ways to attract more high performers:

  1. Optimize inbound sources to reach more quality candidates: To find more people with top performer attributes, optimize the recruitment channels they use most to search for jobs: online job sites, email notifications and mobile.

  2. Use your employer brand to appeal to top performers: Top performers are more likely to accept a new job for the mission, vision or reputation of a company, meaningful work and a positive work environment than just higher compensation. Integrate these motivators into your job content, career site and recruiting process.

  3. Make it easy for top talent to apply to your jobs: To avoid eliminating potentially transformational candidates early in the recruiting process, ensure your application process is simple and mobile-friendly.

Related: 14 Strategies To Improve Employee Performance

How can managers identify high performers on their team?

There are a few easy ways to spot a high performer on your team:

  • Set and review key performance indicators: Using KPIs to gather data about employees is an objective approach to identifying high performers. Employee performance metrics can measure goal-based metrics, employee morale, initiative, productivity, qualitiative metrics and engagement.

  • Observe their behaviors: You may notice a high performer based on the fact that they're always eager to take on new and challenging work and seem to be natural role models for those on their team. They may also seek input and feedback from their team, be self-motivated and can work through difficult situations.

  • Conduct employee performance evaluations: In addition to meeting with the employee themselves as part of this review process, you may also consider talking to their team leader and coworkers, who could provide additional insight into their workplace habits.

How can managers develop and retain high performers?

Here are a few ways you can develop and retain the high performers you have on your team:

Related: 20 Strategies for Employee Retention


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