Top Traits of Model Employees and How to Cultivate them in Your Staff

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

A company’s workforce is comprised of all kinds of personalities from different backgrounds. Everyone has various talents, opinions, and approaches to getting things done. This diversity of perspectives makes an organization healthy, adaptable, and an interesting place to work.

But a business won’t reach its full potential unless its staff embodies important commonalities, too. 

All exemplary employees have core characteristics that make them top contributors who also derive significant job satisfaction. They are far from clones who all act and think the same way, but they share foundational traits for success.

Business leaders looking for ways their companies can achieve at a higher level should assess the traits model employees share. They would do that by evaluating how an ideal staff member:

  • Approaches their work
  • Collaborates with others
  • Interacts with customers, vendors, and other stakeholders

Once leaders identify these winning behaviors, they should make them part of their company’s culture. Doing so will give employees a blueprint for personal growth and the organization a competitive edge.  

Intrinsic vs. Learned Behavioral Traits

Some of the behavioral qualities that leaders will want their corporate culture to reflect are part of people’s nature. Others can be learned and perfected with practice.

Intrinsic Traits

Behavioral qualities that are hard-wired into people are intrinsic traits, and these can be good or bad. These characteristics are part of a person’s nature and include things like honesty or an inherent trust/distrust of others. 

Intrinsic behaviors are hard to change in current employees. But they can be used as a metric in the hiring process to help a culture evolve in the right direction.

CultureWise Founder and CEO David Friedman recommends writing specific interview questions that help reveal whether candidates possess the intrinsic traits leaders want in their staff.

He outlines three kinds of prompts in his book Culture by Design:

  1. Questions that require candidates to tell stories about things they did.

Interviewers shouldn’t ask what the job seeker would do in hypothetical situations, but rather how they responded to actual conditions.

  1. Open-ended questions.

The interviewer can better understand the candidate by asking questions that require a detailed answer rather than a yes/no response.

  1. Questions that don’t “telegraph” what the interviewer is trying to discover.

For example, suppose the organization depends upon strong collaboration. In that case, the interviewer might ask a candidate to talk about a joint project they participated in to hear how they describe working with others. Their answer would probably shed light on what kind of team player they are.

The more people who exhibit preferred intrinsic traits are added to the staff; the stronger and more capable the workforce will become.

Examples of Model Intrinsic Behavioral Traits
  • Integrity

You can’t create honorable people—they either have integrity or not. They demonstrate a commitment to always doing the right thing, even if no one is watching. They are truthful and don’t cover up mistakes.

  • A Commitment to Quality

Employees with this trait exhibit it in everything they do in all aspects of their life—they don’t tolerate mediocrity. They are never satisfied with work that is “good enough.”

  • Determination

Some people just find ways to get things done, while others make excuses. Employees with this trait take responsibility or ownership of issues. They are resourceful and have initiative, and they see things through.

  • Orientation towards Service

Certain people desire to serve others, while others lack the desire or even understand why it’s important. For most companies, success hinges on the level of service they provide to customers and how team members support one another. They must have a staff that can serve at a high level.

  • Flexibility

People are either willing to embrace change and growth or are set in their ways and dislike new directions. Flexible employees are excited by the possibilities that arise in a constantly changing work world.

Learned Traits

Some qualities can be learned and perfected with practice by veteran staff and new hires. While it would be great if recruits already have such traits, they aren’t essential for them to succeed. They can be taught and reinforced until they become habits. It’s much more important for trainees to have suitable intrinsic characteristics, one of which would be a willingness to learn and improve.

Friedman uses the example of people who might have previously worked in an environment where expectations were never clear. They may have never had the training or exposure to a workplace where people consistently set and asked for expectations. But this is the kind of behavioral trait that is easily taught, and with practice, it can become ingrained. 

Some leaders might assume they will meet resistance when trying to teach behavioral traits to employees. While that may be true in a minority of cases, most employees welcome the opportunity to learn and improve their work habits and skills.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report reflects this sentiment. It states that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn.

In addition to bolstering retention, Gallup reports that 11 percent of organizations that make a strategic investment in employee development report greater profitability. Beyond improving skills, development enhances employees’ sense of fulfillment and increases their engagement with their employer. They are happier and more productive—which translates to the bottom line.

Examples of Model Learned Traits
  • Responsiveness

Employers can easily set response time standards that people can learn to follow. While it may seem elementary, the speed at which people respond to issues is a big differentiator in the business world. Once team members are taught the value of responsiveness and religiously practice it, they will strengthen their professional credibility. 

  • Being Proactive

A valuable skill to teach employees is to look ahead and anticipate issues instead of just reacting in the moment. This long-range vision allows them to solve problems before they happen, plan for contingencies, and work with appropriate lead times. Being proactive is an invaluable quality in a rapidly changing work environment.

  • Making an Impression

Staff members are brand ambassadors every time they connect with people outside the company. Making a positive impression with every form of communication and personal and workplace appearance sends a clear message about the company’s image. Like many of the traits, consistency is paramount if it is to be effective. When employers teach staff to do this, they are helping them increase their level of professionalism.

  • Prioritization

Efficient work skills don’t come naturally to many people. One of the most important things employers can teach staff is how to prioritize and plan work for maximum efficiency. They can help them develop this skillset via project management software. But they also need to coach their people to make use of these tools diligently to stay organized. Staff will learn how to ensure that deadlines are met, and details don’t fall through the cracks.

  • Continuous Improvement

Employees should be encouraged to examine every aspect of their role and constantly look for ways to do things better. Leaders should teach them to have a healthy disdain for complacency and always think about doing things better, faster, and more efficiently. This doesn’t mean they should abandon processes in place, but rather scrutinize them for weak spots and make recommendations for improvement.  

Develop Model Employees with Company Culture

The behavioral traits mentioned above are just some of the soft skills that define great employees—there are many more. Organizations that provide training in hard-skill areas like technology, accounting, or hands-on tasks have formal teaching programs. The same sort of methodology should be in place to effectively teach optimum behavioral skills.

The CultureWise system helps businesses build and improve their culture by teaching and reinforcing the behaviors leaders want to see in their workforce. Using the eight-step framework that David Friedman developed and then explained in Culture by Design, CultureWise helps companies develop model employees.

Explore the website to see how CultureWise has assisted companies across North America to become more successful. To read more about Friedman’s approach, a free two-chapter download of Culture by Design is currently available.

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