Looking for staff who just get stuff done? Focus on these three qualities

Emma Koehn /

Forget ideas of “cultural fit” or technical expertise, more often than not if you’re hiring a new staff member, you want them to simply be able to get as high-quality work done in a week as possible.

The good news is that no matter the industry, you can identify productive candidates based on the key characteristics of highly productive workers, according to research conducted by US development consultancy Zenger/Folkman.

Writing in Harvard Business Review this month, founders Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman describe a research study they completed in which they surveyed 7,000 US workers and reviewed how their managers, subordinates and other staff members had rated their productivity.

From the workers identified as the most productive in the cohort, the researchers found by using factor analysis that seven different clusters of behavioural traits emerged. These reflect the actual skills highly productive workers use in order to get things done.

Here are three of the key qualities:

Rhythm and consistency

“In our study, the most productive people did not see their productivity ebb and flow over time; they didn’t procrastinate only to pull all-nighters later on,” the researchers found.

Instead, those who got the most done were able to show consistent progress across a long period of time, having developed a “rhythm” of productive behaviours, instead of engaging in sprints to the finish line when something was due.


Those who demonstrated the biggest outputs among the workers surveyed had been praised for working well with others and taking action when engaging in team work.

Zenger and Folkman suggest this reflects the need for the modern worker to be a natural collaborator. These workers didn’t appear to waste time with personality politics at work and instead simply completed each set task, they said.

“They didn’t have to spend a lot of time soothing ruffled feathers, because they didn’t ruffle many feathers in the first place.”

Setting “stretch” goals

Finally, the most productive workers ordered their days so that large tasks and big goals were front of mind, according to the survey.

Zenger and Folkman refer to this practice as setting “stretch goals”. By focusing on a big project head-on, often workers reported having more time and energy to complete other tasks as well.

“There is some great magic that occurs when people become riveted by the thought of achieving a stretch goal. The people in our study who got the most done made setting stretch goals a habit,” they wrote.

NOW READ: What really motivates sales staff?

Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.