What makes a good employee?

Why we focus more on a holistic standard of performance rather than always critiquing the leaders.

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Oh, the irony! A team of people brought together to help their fellow Australians who had lost their job, complaining about their job. “I’ve been waiting for my logins for days now!”. “I still don’t have my headset!”. “How dare they make me sit at a new desk each day!” How could this be the case? How could the irony not be lost on them? The cherry on top, the travesty was playing out on a public holiday – they were receiving penalty rates!

I witnessed this scene recently and felt compelled to reject my initial emotional reaction of anger and choose to be reflective instead. I took a deep breath, turned to my notepad and asked the question – I wonder why? Such a useful phrase which I have found to immediately defuse my temper and open my mind to possibilities and profound thought. I wonder why this group have chosen to vent their frustration in such a way? I wonder why they so quickly forgot the shock and sadness of only weeks earlier when they were stood down or laid off from their work.

The leadership of this group had been transparent and honest. Everyone in the team knew that there was insufficient planning time. They were told more than half a dozen times during induction – “Please bear with us; we are building the plane as we fly it.” I wonder why this warning fell on deaf ears so universally?

I could not fault the intent of the leadership group in the case. Set a logistical task never before achieved; this group of leaders was doing an excellent job. They provided a clear vision, simple metrics of how success would be measured and expressed a genuine sense of care and compassion for people first and foremost. The organisation provided nearly two days of training for what was a straightforward process – more than the majority of organisations could say they offer their new starters. This leadership team had nailed the big three of – Communication, Process and Training as best they could under extreme time and resource pressure. Yet, it was still unacceptable to this group of staff members. I wonder why?

Every second article or post focuses on leadership and leaders. What have you done, doing or plan to do for your employees? How are you going to lead them to be their best, and how will you be the leader that every individual needs you to be? You must admit, a team needs all team members to strive to be their best if the group is to succeed. I wonder why all employees don’t take it upon themselves to be their best? I wonder what makes a good employee?

A good employee takes the initiative.

Rather than sit around and consider all of the tools, system access or experience that they don’t have, good employees, make a positive choice and use their initiative. They pick up a broom and sweep the shed. They will spend their time learning by reviewing processes on the intranet. They will sit next to an experienced colleague and listen and learn.

A good employee is compassionate.

Rarely does a person present to work to do a lousy job. No one jumps out of bed saying ” I can’t wait to make a bunch of mistakes today which will negatively impact those around me.” It just does not happen. Good employees understand that everyone, their Manager included, goes to work to do a good job. They have compassion and empathy. Instead of seeking to pull their leader down, they try to lift them. They stand in their leaders’ shoes.

A good employee is open to change.

Change is ever-present, all around us and is unstoppable.

Change is like a wave. You either ride it or get wiped out! A good employee remains open to changes in plan, structure and decisions. The funny thing with change is, the more open you are to it, the less it impacts you negatively. Be the surfer hanging ten, not the one held underwater as you bounce across the coral reef.

I acknowledge that change acceptance does not come easily for all people. Dependant on your behavioural style, an employee may find dealing with change to be especially tricky. It may never be easy, however, with practice and intent will become easier.

A good employee shows respect.

As a starting point, good employees demonstrate respect for the role, organisation, opportunity, themselves and their Manager. They acknowledge that others would accept their role tomorrow if offered. They respect that their employer had a choice and chose them. They take pride in their performance. They have a default of respecting the position their Manager plays.

A good employee does more than identify the issues.

Everything can be improved and the best suggestions from the frontline – those that do the work. It is easy to highlight problems—the gaps in the process and lament the impacts it has on you and your customer. The good employee will both identify and suggest options to rectify where they can. They will bring the issue forward in a respectful way and work with their Manager for the betterment of all.

A good employee jumps if necessary.

Have you ever stayed too long? Spent more time complaining about how your CEO “has no idea” than actually coming up with ideas? Said to yourself, “I should resign, but the money is too good.” Turned into the bitter person who is now an issue rather an asset? Good employees don’t do that; they identify that their time has come and they seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Relationships at work are a two-way street. Yes, a leader of a team, a department or an organisation has the responsibility to create an environment where their employees can be their best selves. Leaders should be adaptive, provide clarity of vision, set a path and remain focused on their people’s well-being. And just like any relationship, the favour should be returned. Employees who stay open to change, take the initiative, demonstrate respect, believe in continuous improvement and leave when it is their time. I wonder why there aren’t more of them?

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