The Unicorn Employee is an emerging and popular trend in business.
The theory suggests that Unicorn Employees are:
- Hard to find.
- They will offer huge benefit to the company.
- They will also raise expectations and raise the bar for performance.
- Culturally they are a great fit with the company and they are wonderful to be around.
Most of the theory also suggests these Unicorns will come from outside the company. They will bring with them a wealth of experience, skills and knowledge. They will be the saviour of the company.
Much like the Unicorn itself I believe the Unicorn Employee is a myth.
To suggest that a perfect employee is out there, does a disservice to the people already doing a great job within the company
Taking on external employees can bring benefits. They can freshen up a company and bring new ideas. If we go in search of the this new myth we are in danger of missing real talent, already in front of us.
To understand what talent lies within the company it is useful to ask one question:
What does the best employee do differently?
If we break down the patterns and habits of great performers you will see commonalities.
I want to share some of the traits I believe makes up great performance.
If you make hiring decisions then look for and develop these traits in the people you work with.
If you are hoping to get promoted or just have a fabulous year then these are the traits you should be showing.
Flexible, Adaptable & Curious
If you want to be the best employee then having flexibility and being adaptable is key.
Great performers will wear many hats. They will perform many roles, some of them subtle.
In any given day you might be a leader, coach, counselor and strategist. All the varying roles take different skills and approaches.
Being flexible and adaptable means you will also push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Moving into the fear zone may will feel uncomfortable (it is meant to!) you but you will not show it. On the outside you will appear calm and in control.
Controlling this fear also means you will seek opportunity to work in alien environments. Working in the bubble of your immediate team feels warm and fuzzy. Working with people and teams outside of your immediate area allows you to act as an ambassador.
Think Like Tom Hanks
The best employee thinks big (see what I did there) and small.
They can take a step back, see the bigger picture and understand how their team delivers to the bottom line.
They can also explain it to their team. They make it easy to understand and easy to action. They help others translate their performance and link it to the aims of the business.
Seeing the small picture is about the detail and using this to get things done. It is about knowing the numbers and interrogating those numbers. In doing so you will develop a deeper understanding of performance.
I write about this a lot and has become an obsession of mine in the last 12 months. If I had to rank the sections of this article I would put resilience in the top spot. I believe it is that important.
Obstacles will be out there, ready to trip you up. How you react is crucial. The best employee has a good foundation of resilience and they are building all the time.
When dealing with turbulence the best employee will stay calm, focused and zero in on the goal.
Others may be losing their heads and your clam approach will also help to soothe their anxiety.
The best employee will see obstacles as an opportunity. They will draw on their experiences and tackle the opportunity head on. They will show others the way in doing so will help them to also build their resilience reserves.
You Get People
At the top of the list for most people would be the ability to work well with others.
As the best employee ever you understand what makes each person unique. You can use this knowledge to help others and get the best from any situation.
You are polite and courteous and rank does not influence how you are with other people.
I have worked with people who have been polite to me but have then changed their behaviour with others. The fact I was their Manager should have no bearing, but sadly it did.
Demonstrating this behaviour means a flaw in character. It is a choice and a poor choice. Be kind to everyone regardless of rank.
You may be the creative in the team, the person who comes up with all the ideas.
If you can’t convert this thinking into something tangible (results) then you are a risk to the team.
I get excited by new ideas and I have to be disciplined in not allowing my mind to wander. On my to do list I will add the word ‘ACTION’ in big capital letters, to remind me of the need to deliver. It works. Most of the time..
Results matter and the best employees do not forget this.
Above and Beyond
Being good is no longer good enough. The people you lead, the you team mates and your boss demand excellence from you.
It is not possible to deliver this type of performance every single day. The reality is you will have days when you suck. Even so, the best employees aim for excellence on a daily basis.
Having this mindset means you are more likely to show excellence. You become known as someone who delivers but also sets yourself apart from your peers.
Whilst your team mates may demand excellence it does not mean they will deliver to this standard. This is where you have opportunity.
Take a task and work out how you can do more with it.
For example you have to produce a report. Simple enough if you know the report structure and where to get the info from. How could you show excellence?
Add in charts or a table showing patterns and trends for the previous six months. Project what the next six months look like. This is what excellence looks like. Surprise and delight people.
The demand of excellence is always there. Few people actually turn up and deliver it. You have a daily opportunity to do so. If you can deliver I guarantee it will make you stand out.
What Are You Famous For?
If I asked a handful of people what you are famous for, what would they say?
Everyone should have something they famous for. If you are struggling to find what you are famous for ask this question:
When do people come to you for advice?
We are often too modest for our own good so ask the people you work with. This will offer more clues about what you are famous for. You might be surprised by what they say.
Whatever you are famous for the best employees work out how they can use this to help others.
My old boss was amazing at planning and organising. I was part of a team that had to develop a 90 day plan.
We all struggled, for different reasons, to put the plan together. We asked her to pop into the meeting room for some inspiration and guidance.
Within minutes she had mapped out several of the activities on flip chart. She used different coloured markers making it easy to understand. She had put together a structure that made sense and was easy to follow.
My mind does not always work in a linear and organised fashion. I could not work out how she did this so quickly. I was jealous!
She could see the outline and connect the dots to make sure all issues were covered. In my mind this is what she is famous for. Strategic and tactical thinking.
The best employee will look for opportunities to learn and improve their own performance.
They know they do not have all the answers and will observe others. They will ask questions to develop a deeper understanding. They will use this understanding to execute and deliver results.
A great technique is to ask others to teach you something. Everyone has a skill, or knowledge or experience you do not. People love to share so use this to your advantage.
Finding out what they can teach you is a great way of learning. It also reinforces an early point about being curious. Having this mindset is a trait of the best employee ever.
Once they have taught you something offer to trade and teach them something in return – win, win.
The traits are all common sense but not everything that is common sense is common practice.
By developing the above habits and showing them on a daily basis you will stand out from the pack.
Aim to be 1% better each day. If you do this every day for a month you will be 31% better.
I want you to showcase your skills, your talent and your passion for what you do.
Make them look. Make them take notice. Be a Unicorn Slayer.