All companies need to have high performing people at all levels of the organisation. Many companies invest considerable sums in finding high performing executives, yet these companies spend only a modicum of effort finding high performers at different levels of the organisation. It can be strongly argued that people who work at the customer, service or product end of the organisation have a significant impact on the company's performance. Having the right people with the right approach is extremely important and their performance can make a significant difference in the value of the organsiation.
Research has shown that high performance is not related to skills, experience, knowledge or accreditation. These may be important to some level but the most significant aspect to predicting performance is, not surprisingly, past performance. As an indicator, this is the first part of the equation that needs to be evaluated.
Past performance and success should be evaluated in terms of relative success rather than absolute outcomes. People can have apparent success because the circumstances were right - the economy, the team, the structure of the organsaition and the support can all lead to apparent success irrespective of individual performance. Relative success is more to do with the obstacles and the issues the person has had to deal with. Their success is determined by them rather than factors external to them.
Studies have shown that there are certain characteristics that have a high correlation to success. People who are focused, passionate about what they do, determined and persistent to achieve the outcome. These people deal comfortably with road blocks and issues and are able to break through.
There is an intersting TED lecture by Angela Lee Duckworth titled "Key to Success - Grit". She argues that there is a mental toughness and determination which seems to hallmark the most successful people irrespective of their backgrounds. They are able to overcome the odds to achieve their goals. They have persistence and patience and ultimately the passion to keep going.
In his book "Winning" Jack Welch firstly looks for integrity - honesty, as being fundemental. Then it is intelligence. In this context, people need to be intelligent but beyond a certain point it is less relevant. In other words, it is not a question of more is better, rather that a minimum level is required. The third is maturity and in this case he describes that as a mixture of wisdom and humility.
Welch then goes on to describe the 4Es and 1P (later he adds generosity to the mix). These are: Energy to apply to the work; Energize others in the work; Edge to make tough decisions; the ability to Execute the work and make things happen and Passion and genuine excitement for the work. The addition of Generosity later reflects the view that these high performers celebrate the success of others and are generous in their praise and admiration for their staff.
In other work reportedly done by Egon Zehnder it would appear that the first indicator of high performance is the right motivation. In this case it equates to a firece commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals. They add that additional characteristics of high potentials include Curiosity, Insight, Engagement and Determination.
A google search of Curiosity and Passion will result in a plethora of information of the combination of these two descriptors being indicators of success at some level. This includes research that goes back a century of more. Some argue that Passion and Curiosity can over as or maybe even more important than IQ.
So, in summary good predictors of success include:
Integrity, intelligence and humility may need to be prerequisites.
Passion, curiosity, toughness, determination and persistence appear to be common themes
Finally in our view, analyse the past performance to understand how people think and approach their work. Many of these themes will emerge. In all cases, in our experience, toughness and persistence need to be part of the observed charateristics.