The most important habit of star employees is surprisingly simple

There’s a proven path to impressing your coworkers — and potentially even becoming the boss’s favourite.

Last year, leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman collected upward of 50,000 360-degree evaluations conducted over five years on more than 4,000 individual employees.

They looked specifically at the leadership behaviours that distinguished “good” performers (those rated at the 40th to 70th percentile) from the “best” performers (those rated at the 90th percentile and above).

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, respectively, outline their findings in The Harvard Business Review.

According to their results, one behaviour had the most influence on individual employee ratings: setting stretch goals.

Top employees, Zenger and Fokman write, “set — and met — stretch goals that went beyond what others thought were possible.” Moreover, these employees pushed others to do the same.

Interestingly, Zenger and Folkman say that when they asked raters to choose the four skills they thought were most important for an employee to have, not even 10% cited high goals. Perhaps that’s why setting and meeting stretch goals is so impactful — it’s not typically expected.

On the other end of the spectrum are what Zenger and Folkman call “sandbaggers.” These employees are wary of overachieving, because they may only be rewarded with more tasks that they can’t complete.

That’s why, Zenger and Folkman say, it’s important for employees to recognise employees’ contributions when they go above and beyond, instead of simply piling more work on their plate.

Other research by Zenger/Folkman suggests that setting stretch goals isn’t just meaningful for individual employees — it can help managers stand out as well. One of the reasons why younger managers tend to be rated more effective than older managers is because they’re less fearful of falling short when they set the bar high and inspire the same can-do attitude in their team.

Of course, setting and achieving high goals is easier said than done. Make sure to keep your objectives specific (e.g. “generate 10 new client relationships a year” as opposed to “generate new client relationships”) and set smaller goals on the way to the big one (e.g. “create a spreadsheet of potential clients”).

To see the rest of the behaviours that define star employees, click here.

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