What Makes a Star Performer?

Posted by Mimi Meredith at Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 8:09 am

For at least 12 years, the same man has served as the crosswalk guard at an intersection between our middle school and high school. I am sure there must have been days he was sick, or had a replacement, but I don't recall ever seeing anyone else at that corner.

He's always seemed "older", yet he hasn't visibly aged in the12 years I've been passing his corner. He rarely smiles. He doesn't wave at all the passing cars. He'll occasionally wave back, but not often.

In the early years of taking my boys and their friends to school, it used to be my personal challenge to make him smile back at me. But usually, he remained focused on the traffic and the students...you know...doing his job. I don't know that keeping middle school students safe and orderly requires a cheerful countenance.

It's interesting how we rate work.

I have personally championed movements to "hire friendly people" and I'm really great at teaching people the benefits of positive engagement. But tell me, would this stoic-looking man who has taken his post before dawn and again at 3 p.m. every day 180 days a year for at least 12 years be better off if he'd learned to lift his apples?


Here are three vital keys to remember when you evaluate employees:

A) They don't need to be like you. They don't even need to be like your best employee. They need to be their best. It's your job to support them in identifying and nurturing those traits.

B) They have to have an absolute commitment to doing the work, not just to having work.

C) They need to do the work well and consistently. (Honestly, "Star Performers" are only truly stellar when they show up to shine every day. Shooting stars are brilliant and exciting until their collapse leaves scorched earth and destruction all around them.)

I wonder if the Kyrene School District knows that one of their star performers won't be found in one of their buildings, but at his post at 27th Place and Liberty Lane?

Do you know what your best employees look like and where they are working? "Meets or Exceeds Expectations" hardly defines what they really bring to the job, does it?

Make sure you know where goodness grows. The best cultivators of your corporate culture may surprise you.

  • RickManelius

    Absolutely. “Star performers” can also be the ones that get bored and move onto the next thing.

    I once worked 8-10 hour days at a plastic factory sorting clear plastic vials for defects. At age 16, it was the best job I could get in upstate NY. But it was mind numbingly tedious for someone like me, who loves an intellectual challenge, etc.

    There was another employee that was an absolute machine that worked at twice my speed and he would consistently put in 12+ hour days and not even notice. He loved it because he could just zone out and then pickup his paycheck and go home.

    Point being, the job was terrible for my personality and my skill sets and was perfect for someone who loved to just crank through manual labor without any need to think about what they were doing. My coworker loved the job and I absolutely went bonkers after 2 months! Therefore, I should have fired myself.

    I eventually did quite and instead started to work as an unpaid intern at a local computer store run by two guys looking to quit their day jobs. That opportunity was fun, I learned a ton, and I eventually earned a higher salary when they realized I could build a computer from it’s parts in less than an hour and I was quite handy. So in the end, it was worth it.

  • http://hajrakvetches.com/ Hajra


    First time here and I love the headline you have to state!

    When I was working for a corporate firm, there was this project manager who thought he was better than the us project cordinators! The day I left that job, I actually told him politely, that he might be better but he couldn’t function without his team :) We work our best and that should be doing the trick!

  • http://SocialMediaDDS.com/ SocialMediaDDS

    Such a timely post @MimiMeredith ….I struggled inwardly today about an employee that, it turns out, I am wishing would be “me”. It ain’t happening. That said, I definitely WILL have to evaluate B and C…. and I just hate doing that because, it often means I’m not going to like the answer. Sigh…

    Thank you for another excellent and thought provoking (even if they were not the thoughts I wanted to think) ;-) post Mimi! I so enjoy your writing!

    Happy New Year!


    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @SocialMediaDDS Thanks, Claudia, and Happy New Year to you, too! The evaluation side of employee management is always challenging. Tomorrow, I hope to have a post that might help with the language that makes some of those difficult conversations easier.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ TheJackB

    Darn Bill stole my comment about the mirror and best employee. I think that many companies would be well served to revamp their approach to employees and take a harder look at the intangibles as well as the “numbers.”

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @TheJackB ABSOLUTELY! Pardon me for yelling, but the companies that succeed will look at all those intangibles: their standards for hiring; the alignment of employees to the behaviors the company identifies as critical; the way employees cultivate culture and how they respond to guidance. Sooooo important. And of course, companies should hire me to help them.

  • http://billdorman.me/ bdorman264

    Yes, I just look in the mirror for our ‘best’ employee…………..:). I have a person who has been working for me for about 12 years. Her biggest strength is how much she ‘cares’ about our customers. We had a trying December making sure we retained a couple of key accounts and I don’t how she pulled it off, but we came out victorious.

    When one long time customer called to say even though we were $12k high on the renewal, he wasn’t moving because we treated him like family. My account manager started crying on the phone. Now we don’t want to cry with every customer, but this was how much they meant to her.

    She’s not perfect, but the things she does well she does really well. I would be dead in the water without her.

    It’s not easy to always hire for your culture, but it sure makes it easier when you can.

    • http://SocialMediaDDS.com/ SocialMediaDDS

      @bdorman264 //can you clone her? please….

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @bdorman264 But, being the queen of corporate culture (and many other things) I would say hiring to fit your culture is absolutely critical. And actually, it does begin with looking in the mirror (aren’t you glad it came back to being all about you?!) when you are the leader. Your employees have to have the same basic core values you do or you’ll never have that “fit” you need to gain traction. My guess is that your remarkable veteran cares because you care and people who can build relationships built on those standards are the ones you hire. So see…you’re practicing professional perfection and you didn’t even know it! :-)

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @bdorman264 I forgot to say congrats on ending the year on a positive note!!