The 8 Qualities of a Great Employee

I can’t think of a business magazine or column that didn’t, at one time or another, feature a list of things that characterize a great workplace, an excellent boss or a checklist for “employee incentives that work.”

As the owner of a small business, I get it. I understand that in order to attract and keep great employees, you absolutely must work to create a place where these people want to stay.

But as someone who knows what it’s like to sweat payroll, I can also tell you that the equation has to balance: 

The dialogue should not always be employee-oriented, and the burden of proof should not always be on the employer.

So, here, submitted for your approval (as Rod Serling would say), are the 8 qualities a great employee brings to the table – those qualities that someone who simply marks time or exemplifies complacency never will. Note: “Ability” is not on this list. Ability is a given.

The 8 Qualities of a Great Employee

#1: A Contempt for Job Descriptions. That’s right, I said “contempt.” Many employees will ignore their job descriptions (and that’s good), but the great ones simply don’t tolerate their use as limitations by anyone in the organization.

#2: A DNA-Level Belief in the Word “We.” The thing about DNA is that you can’t see it, but it influences everything a person does. Enough said.

#3: Third Person Sight. The ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes is unusual. The capacity to act on what one sees, well, that’s what really separates the wheat from the chaff. Third person sight increases understanding, creates flexibility and minimizes drama. What else would you expect from a great employee?

#4: The Ability to Perform a Bloodless Autopsy. Every business experiences something that goes wrong. A great employee (or manager for that matter) will focus first on fixing the problem and next on making the changes necessary to ensure that it does not arise a second time. If “you,” “she,” or “he” is the first word out of an employee’s mouth when a problem is raised, they are far from great.

#5: Honor. Values only mean something when they are inconvenient. An individual who has values, can express what they are and says in actions, if not words, “this is what you can count on from me, every time and without fail” is someone I’d want in the trenches with me.

#6: An Impulse to Fiddle. “We may be able to make it better if we just fiddle with it.” That’s the mark of someone for whom “good enough” is not good enough.

#7: A Willingness to Fail. A very successful litigator friend of mine used to say, “If you haven’t lost; you haven’t played.” Great employees are willing to venture outside of their comfort zones to try.

#8: Awareness. Perhaps this last one goes without saying, and I thought about calling it simply “common sense,” but I think it’s more than that. Great employees have an awareness of the organization around them – its culture, its overall health, its best interests and its vision. It is this awareness that informs characteristics 1 through 7.

Now, who in your company is (or can be) great?

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