A great employee is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and harder still to retain. What makes some employees so perfect?
We all know those few star employees at work who always appear to be in the right place at the right time; they get the best projects and effortlessly launch one successful project after another. These stars see non-linear growth in their careers while their peers are fastidiously working up the ladders. So what is it that separates the average worker from the best and brightest? These stars have traits that may seem obvious, yet they are surprisingly hard to find. Here are the top three traits that will catapult you to being a star:
Go-to-person: When you take up a new role, become a subject-matter expert in two areas. First, sharpen your technical know-how with cutting-edge technology—for instance, if you are a business analyst, learn coding in R; if you are a product manager, accumulate expertise around customer pain points. Second, get immersed in your domain—whether you’re in advertising, e-commerce, or taxi aggregation, learn how your industry works, how money flows through it, who actually has power to shape the industry, what can cause inflection points across all players, and what the future looks like. You know your domain knowledge and technical expertise has reached its zenith when you become the go-to person for your area. People across the organisation at all levels will seek you out to get your opinion or to understand how well the current strategy is performing. Becoming this linchpin puts you on the fast track in any organisation.
Ownership: Have you ever been so excited about something, say an upcoming event or trip, or so nervous about something, say an exam or a speech, that you haven’t been able to sleep? That is because you have internalised that event and given it your heart and soul. First, find companies, managers, and projects you can give your heart to. If your work is keeping you so engrossed that time just seems to have wings, then you’re in the right place. Your mind is occupied and you are performing at your best. Second, take ownership for your work, and slowly of the project and your teams. If something isn’t working, make it your problem and gather the appropriate resources to solve it. If you have a better idea for solving the problem, run a few pilots. If you are blocked by leadership or other teams, bring stats to the discussion and drive arguments to conclusion. I’ve often told my product managers that their job is to wear all hats to propel the business forward; if the toilet is clogged and hence their team’s productivity is bogged down, they need to roll up their sleeves and unclog it. Such total ownership of an area makes you a desirable worker managers would regret losing.
Communicator: This skill has many dimensions. At the very heart of it, execution can be streamlined through rigorous communication between all teams. Second, listening to and sharing insights from customers, business/finance teams, and leadership can position you as an invaluable node. One of my superbosses would bring back notes from his various meetings; I remember being enthralled by all the information he would share and the connections he could make to help me excel. Third, the best employees inspire and motivate others to achieve a common goal, in all their water-cooler conversations. Instead of focusing on everything that’s broken, talk about everything that can be done to fix what’s broken. I was once offered a role to go implement one of my water-cooler ideas, opening up an unconventional opportunity that was otherwise out of bounds.
Above all, having the right attitude is everything. Education and experience can only take you so far; focusing on the three traits described above will help you have a positive impact on the company as a whole. You will know you’ve succeeded when you become a sought-after employee the management wants to hire and retain.