How to recognise high performers in the workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

High performers play an important part in the success of a business. They're the employees that managers can rely on to produce high-quality work, take on additional responsibilities and remain calm in times of intense pressure. Understanding how to recognise high performers can help managers to support them and encourage their development. In this article, we discuss what high performers are, how you can recognise them, how to support them and how they differ from high potential individuals.

What are high performers?

A high performer often stands out from their colleagues, as they excel in their role by consistently exceeding expectations. Managers typically turn to high performers for support with challenging tasks or to mentor new members of the team. Thanks to a track record for success, managers know they can rely on their top performers to support the business when needed.

High performers are typically excellent at their job and take pride in their accomplishments. They might not necessarily have the potential or desire to pursue further development into higher roles. That said, many high performers do also have the potential to progress further in their careers.

Related: How to develop your skillset for career success

How to recognise high performers

Knowing how to recognise high performers is important, as they may look elsewhere for development opportunities if they don't feel they're valued. So, knowing what to look out for is essential. The following steps can help you identify high performers in your workplace:

1. Look out for key traits

High performers often embody positive traits that help them excel in their roles. While demonstrating the following traits does not guarantee that someone is a top performer, they can be good indicators of an individual's competence. High performers typically:

  • Act as role models: High performers are confident in their abilities and are happy to share advice with others. Managers often turn to high performers for support when new employees join the team, they may ask junior members of staff to shadow top performers to learn their job roles.

  • Adapt quickly: In times of change, high performers are among the first to adapt and embrace the new ways of working. Whether it's a new working environment, change of procedure or organisational restructuring, they go with the flow and quickly learn how to excel in the new environment.

  • Confidently make decisions: High performers are confident in their decisions and are not afraid to make mistakes. While they might turn to managers for support or a second opinion in complex situations, they're typically independent employees that require little supervision.

  • Pay attention to processes: High performers don't just focus on the result but look at the process required to get there. By better understanding how things work, they're often able to find more efficient ways of working and offer process improvement ideas too.

  • Take on additional responsibility: Managers often turn to high performers to tackle challenging situations. If you often turn to a member of your team for support when difficult situations arise, they're likely a high performer.

  • Use their initiative: High performers are typically highly self-motivated individuals. They use their initiative to seek new challenges and accomplish projects without needing close supervision or direction.

  • Value feedback: High performers know that to improve, they know what's expected of them and how they're doing. Regular feedback from supervisors is important to them, as they want to know what's required to succeed.

While these traits alone don't necessarily mean someone's a top performer, combined with the additional indicators outlined below, they're a good sign that someone is a high-performance individual.

Related: Top tips for successful career progression

2. Monitor key performance indicators (KPIs)

Establishing a set of KPIs that measure success is the first step in recognising high performers in your team. Depending on the industry you work within and the roles you're monitoring with KPIs, they might measure a variety of different metrics. Some examples of common KPIs include:

  • the number of phone calls a call handler takes in a contact centre

  • the customer satisfaction scores an employee receives from feedback surveys

  • the click-through rate of digital advertisements produced by marketing employees

  • the average resolution time for support tickets in an IT support or customer service position

  • the percentage of projects completed on time

  • the conversion rate for sales leads turning into sales

The most important aspect of KPIs is that both staff and managers understand exactly what's being measured by each metric and that they agree this is a good measure of success for the role. KPIs may change over time, in response to business or economic changes, and the benchmark for what good performance looks like can change too. For example, if a department consistently misses its target for a particular KPI, perhaps the target set for that metric is unrealistic.

Related: What KPI stands for and how to use it in your career

3. Conduct regular performance reviews

Performance reviews are a great way to assess individuals' skills and performance. By conducting reviews, managers can recognise high performers and find ways to support their growth and development. Managers use different methods to assess their teams, including:

  • collecting feedback from colleagues

  • asking teams to complete questionnaires about their performance

  • asking customers or clients for feedback

  • sending self-reviews for team members to complete

  • holding performance interviews

  • requesting direct line managers to complete a written review

If you decide to implement peer reviews, ensure they remain anonymous to encourage honest feedback. You may wish to send peer reviews via an anonymous online form or hand out paper forms to return in a dropbox to reassure team members that the surveys are confidential. Based on the feedback from colleagues, customers and line managers, top performers can be easily identified.

Related: What is a performance review template? (4 templates to use)

4. Assess your team's skills

Performing a skills gap analysis or using skills management software can help you identify top performers. Assessing your team's skills also highlights team members that need further development to meet the skill needs of their role. By capturing a snapshot of your team's current skill set you can use this information to:

  • arrange mentorship or buddy programmes

  • develop the skills of team members that lack particular competencies

  • encourage high performers to coach junior team members

  • highlight suitable team members for promotion

  • identify opportunities for training

  • recognise high-performing team members

Once you have a comprehensive overview of your team's skills, you can recognise high performers and those with extensive skill sets easily.

Related: How to develop your skillset for career success

Tips for supporting high performers

When you identify high-performing individuals, you certainly don't want to demotivate them or discourage them. To motivate high performers and encourage them to reach their potential, personalise your management style to suit what they need. Some things to consider when managing top performers include:

  • Create a culture of continuous learning: Top performers are typically highly motivated individuals who want to learn more and take on additional responsibility. By providing opportunities to continue learning and developing, top performers can further develop themselves.

  • Encourage autonomy: Your top performers usually perform at their best when they're able to take ownership of tasks and make their decisions. Rather than closely supervising high performers, encourage them to trust their judgement and support the decisions they make.

  • Offer mentorship opportunities: Providing mentorship opportunities for top performers can help them to develop into future leaders. Speak to your team to find out what their career goals are and offer assistance finding suitable mentors for them within the department, company or industry.

  • Provide challenging work: Top performers often enjoy the challenge of a difficult assignment or complex problem, as it provides an opportunity for them to learn something new. Recognise your high performers by giving them the responsibility of challenging work.

  • Share feedback: Providing frequent feedback to high-performing team members is essential. Not only does it let them know how they're doing, but it's also an opportunity for you to tell them how important they are to the team.

Related: 10 methods to improve employee development in the workplace

Differences between high performers and high potential individuals

High-performance individuals might also have high potential to develop, but some may also be comfortable in their current role with no desire to progress into senior positions. Being able to identify the difference between performance and potential can help you manage your team effectively and encourage team members to reach their full potential. Some differences between high performance and high potential include:

  • Someone with high potential may have inconsistent performance, but with training and development, may become a high performer.

  • High potential can be more difficult to identify as individuals may possess leadership skills that make them suitable for management roles, but if they don't use these skills in their current roles, they may go unnoticed.

  • High performers may perform their current duties to a very high standard thanks to experience, but without additional skills and passion to develop further, they're unlikely to become high potential individuals.

Explore more articles