Today’s topic

How to spot, hire and keep a high performer

How to spot, hire and keep a high performer
Top performers tend to be four times as productive as the average employee. The same study conducted by Indiana University found that high performers shape company culture, as they're more likely to pick a new job based on a company's reputation and opportunities for purposeful work. 

In this article, featuring unique insights from HeartAerospace's Head of People, Elisabeth Vidfar and Alva's Lead People Science, Kajsa Asplund, learn what it takes to spot, hire, and keep ultra-achievers on your team.

Key traits of a high-performer

A high performer is as motivated by others' success as their own. They take responsibility for their growth, live and breathe the organisation's values, and have a strong sense of purpose and direction. 

As Kajsa puts it:

  "The best tend to think about a result they want to achieve. They focus on that end goal and pour all their efforts in that direction. They are really good at closing that gap between now and what they want to achieve. Then there is cognitive ability, interpreting information, knowing what to do when you don't know what to do, plus adapting to situations and reading the room."

There's also another part to being a high performer, one that is mentioned anecdotally by hiring practitioners but has considerable weight. Passion.

High performers tend to be engaged in their role and company mission. At best, they serve as brand guardians, helping set positive examples for other colleagues. Interestingly, the passion component comes from personality. For example, people who are highly open, conscientious, and passionate about learning new things tend to go through life with that attitude. 

Why soft skills matter more than you think

A recent study compared generalist leaders, whose careers have plateaued, to people who have excelled. The difference between why one group grew and another stalled concerns a cluster of soft skills within the social realm. 

Collaborating effectively, actively listening, and possessing diplomatic skills are also the markers of a high performer. 

What's more, conceptual skills like critical thinking, abstract thinking, and the ability to have diverse perspectives and look at things more abstractedly are also signs to look out for when spotting high-performers. 

The relationship between potential and high performance

More often than not, organisations define high performers exclusively by what they've done in the past. Employers look at a person's historical record of achievements to determine how good they are at what they do. 

The problem with this approach is that a person with high potential but no track record yet can just as easily become a top performer with the proper support, training, and encouragement. 

A high performer: What a person has accomplished in the past.

A high-potential employee: What the person is capable of accomplishing. 

To determine a person's potential to excel in the role, you must make the best guess on what this person can develop into. This is where you turn to foundational traits as your basis for making a prediction, which can best be scientifically measured through a combination of personality assessments and logical reasoning tests.

Given how quickly the job market is changing with AI at the forefront of the hiring revolution,  companies are trying to figure out what competencies people will need to possess in the coming years, and which processes will need to be scrapped or made over. What will determine performance to a higher extent, is in this case, is potential. 

Kajsa unpacks this further:

  "What will become increasingly important for companies is: how good are candidates at adapting to change and versatility? To determine this, psychometrics is the answer. So is interviewing for aptitude and a learning mindset. Good tests can play a big role in finding those diamonds in the rough- investing in potential and developing them."

How to spot a high performer and hire them

Below, we outline steps you can take to identify high performers and hire them.

Assess your talent pool

The first step in your hiring process is understanding how your current workforce is faring and the state of your candidate pool.

The process could look like this:
Sit down with stakeholders and HR to determine a process around performance reviews. Explore how best to capture performance data, which will enable you to understand where your internal talent is and whether your recent hires have stayed on with you past a year.

It requires asking tough questions like: Why are people in key roles departing? Where are they leaving to? Which current approaches work, and which have room for improvement?

Next, look at how you are attracting talent. Populate feedback on how recruits spend their time in each talent segment, what interview techniques yield the most accurate results, and how you spend your time sourcing and screening talent. Now is the time to review your current tech stack and evaluation methods and ask whether this is the best, most efficient way to spot top talent?

Once you've pooled the information into qualitative data, you should start to see a pattern in how hiring managers spend their time and whether there are any leaks in your talent pipeline that need fixing. 

For example, suppose you find that there are a lot of candidates dropping out of the hiring process after the first or second interview. In that case, that's a sign that you need to optimise your interview process and tailor it to the candidate experience. Or, if you find that most of your hires in the past year haven't passed probation, that's a sign that you need to double down on your efforts to ensure quality hiring.

Want to master the art of interviewing candidates? Check out our ultimate guide here.

Control your candidate pipeline

Top performers want to work with other top performers. They also tend to pay close attention to an organisation's value proposition, the promise of interesting work, on-the-job growth opportunities, and an attractive, flexible career path. But it's not just about offering this on paper but meeting this expectation head-on. In other words, your Glassdoor Reviews should speak to the culture you attest to.

A recent study by McKinsey found that specialist candidates want a different value proposition: 

  • ➡️ Deeper technical development
  • ➡️ Opportunities for special projects
  • ➡️ A more relaxed and casual environment
  • ➡️ Freedom from admin tasks and bureaucracy.

Identify core traits of high performers using psychometric assessments

Tests are one of several methods to assess a person's potential to be a high performer. By examining individuals' personality traits and broad abilities, we can form a data-driven perception of who has the talent, motivation, and soft skills to succeed in a specific role. 

Extensive studies have shown that these types of tests when used correctly, have a strong ability to identify candidates with promising prospects not only to perform but also to develop forward.

For example, Alva's psychometric assessments are more than twice as accurate in predicting job performance than CV screening, meaning that companies can reduce the number of interviews by up to 50% while still making better hiring decisions. 

Look at candidates' past record of performance through structured interviews

A powerful way to determine a candidate's capabilities and past track record of performance is to conduct a structured interview and ask situational behaviour questions. 

Structured interviews not only outperform traditional interviews but also help you reduce bias. This ensures that you assess candidates fairly and make better hiring decisions.

How to retain a high performer on your team

High-performing employees are usually very ambitious and attractive to other organisations. They might leave for another job if they don't like where they are. But when organisations invest in their people and nurture their top performers, these employees can be incredibly valuable in delivering business results and shaping company culture. 

Below we outline three ways you can retain a high performer.

Invest in good managers

One of the most important factors for the success of an organisation is the quality of its managers. Yet 43% of employees have left a job at some point in their career because of their manager. 

In short, having a good manager can make the difference between your star employee staying or leaving. 

One way to cultivate good managers is to run leadership training sessions with them. In China, where growing and securing talent is especially challenging, multinationals have poured money into management training, whereby they have managers taking "regular temperature" checks of employee wellbeing and engagement levels, as well as train them on how to communicate with their rapports. 

Coach and mentor

Most high performers are driven to learn, improve, and upskill. As an employer, you can encourage high performers to continue learning and developing through coaching and mentorship. 

Do you have an employee that wants to be a better public speaker? Have them host a webinar or join as a panelist at a conference. Creating opportunities for employees to continue growing is one of the most effective ways to retain your talent. 

For example, HeartAerospace, a Swedish startup that develops aircraft, focuses on cultivating their junior talent in-house and ramping up their skillset. 

HeartAerospace's Head of People, Elisabeth Vidfar comments:

  "We have a very open strategy. If you want to go to a more technical career path, that's possible. If you want to become more of a section leader or team lead, that's possible. If you want to study another department and learn all that's possible, we make it happen." 

Create internal mobility opportunities  

Multiple studies on talent mobility show that actively moving employees into different roles is one of the companies' most effective retention techniques today. Research by I4CP revealed that high-performance organisations are twice as likely to emphasise talent mobility versus low-performance companies.

"Many organisations need to think creatively about internal mobility, how to open up more interesting moves in the organisation horizontal moves, managing cross-functional projects, so career development isn't just a hierarchical ladder- organisations need to gear up in that sense," Kajsa says.

To wrap up

A company, like a sports team, has to do a lot to perform and succeed. But if it doesn't have a healthy share of superstars on the team, it'll have a mighty time excelling in a competitive labour market.

In today's candidate-driven job market, it's critical to have a robust hiring process that allows you to efficiency screen, assess, and hire top talent. Because at the end of the day,  high performers make the ultimate difference in your profit margins, with them being 400 times more productive than their colleagues.

Do you want to learn more about how Alva can help you assess top talent more efficiently – and at scale? We'd love to show you how Alva works.

The best talent do the best and the most work. But many companies need to do a better job of finding and keeping them. In fact, 82% of companies believe they need to hire more talented people. Today, companies cite finding top talent as one of their primary concerns. Why the disparity—and how can you close the gap and secure top performers on your team?