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The Impact of High-Performing Individuals on Organisations

This is not for the faint of heart. Only 1% of organisations deploy the tactics of talent density to achieve more than their competition, delivering 10x the average performance in their industry. In a McKinsey study in the pharmaceutical industry, this meant the drug development teams in the top 1% were 10x the average and got drugs to market 500 days faster.

High-performing individuals (we call them A-Players) are the elite professionals within most organisations, characterised by their exceptional productivity, efficiency, and ability to exceed expectations consistently. These top performers drive a company forward by contributing significantly more than what is typically required from an employee. They deliver high-quality work and inspire their peers through their dedication and outstanding results.

We believe A-Players should not be rare but should become your new normal.

At what level should expectations be set?

Avoid the mistake of setting your expectations at your current average. Clients who achieve significant improvements in their A-Player percentages—such as increasing from 10-35% to 60% or higher—redefine their top 5-25% of current performers as B-Players (meeting expectations). This approach involves taking the lower end of an A-Player’s range of acceptable performance from their current top 5% of team members.

The impact of high-performing individuals on organisations cannot be overstated. They are pivotal in achieving business goals and objectives, shaping a positive organisational culture, and enhancing team member engagement. Their drive for excellence sets a high standard within the workplace, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and success.

How many A-players do you need in an organisation?

When Monkhouse & Company begins an employee engagement, we typically have the executive team complete a talent assessment for either the entire organisation or, at the very least, all people managers. In most cases, A-Players account for between 10% and 35% of the current team. The team then sets goals to improve these figures.

The CEO commits to ensuring all executive team members are A-Players. The executive team commits to elevating all direct reports to A-Players. A timeframe is established for all people leaders to either become A-Players or be replaced with individuals who meet this standard.

Organisations that understand and value the contributions of these “A-Players” often see transformative results. It’s crucial for businesses aiming for growth not only to attract but also to retain such talent. Strategies adopted from insights like those from Jim CollinsGood to Great can be instrumental in nurturing high performers. Collins’ book provides valuable lessons on scaling up businesses, including the importance of hiring only A-Players.

Furthermore, establishing psychological safety within the team—as emphasised in Monkhouse & Company’s insights on being open and honest with staff—is essential for fostering high-performance cultures. This involves creating an environment where employees feel safe to take risks, share ideas, and provide honest feedback without fear of retribution. The deliberate and ongoing process of building and developing a high-performing team is crucial, emphasising the importance of strategic planning and investment in continuous growth to nurture high-performing teams. Strategies like implementing the “Stinky Fish Exercise” can help strengthen psychological safety within your business, leading to improved performance and overall success.

    The Characteristics That Set High-Performing Team Members Apart

    High performers distinguish themselves through several key characteristics:

    1. Solid Work Habits: High performers exhibit work habits contributing significantly to their success. They prioritise tasks that align with organisational objectives, thus boosting their productivity. For instance, they manage their workload efficiently by striking a good work-life balance, which helps them maintain focus and avoid burnout.

    2. Productivity: According to McKinsey, high performers are 400% more productive than average employees, which can rise to 800% in complex occupations. This isn’t a result of working harder but rather working smarter.

    3. Clarity and Purpose: These individuals seek clarity in their roles and purpose in their work. They attach their identity to performance, which drives them to deliver high service levels and exceed expectations consistently.

    4. Taking Regular Breaks: Contrary to what might be expected, high performers understand the power of taking regular breaks for renewed focus. Such breaks increase productivity, as demonstrated by the DeskTime experiment, which showed how breaks can improve overall efficiency. These breaks also play a crucial role in achieving a good work-life balance.

    5. Overcoming Fear and Embracing Challenges: While fear of failure is common among all individuals, high performers overcome this fear and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth.

    These characteristics set high performers apart from their peers and inspire a positive team culture within the organisation. They lead by example, fostering an environment that values open communication, trust, mutual respect, and collaboration. Their influence encourages continuous improvement and success, demonstrating the pivotal role of leadership in establishing and sustaining a supportive and inclusive team culture.

    Distinguishing Between High Performers and High Potentials

    Does your company utilise the nine-box talent grid? This model, cherished by HR departments globally, has indeed become prolific, as evidenced by its presence in over 13 million Google search results. Yet, it infuriates me beyond measure.

    My disdain for it surpasses even my aversion to annual appraisals—a significant statement in itself. Whenever a new client mentions their use of this model, I can’t help but groan internally. It’s absolute bollox. Even more troubling, it’s a framework for mediocrity that can seriously hinder your growth.

    It's time to throw the 9-box talent grid in the bin

    Knowing how to differentiate between high performers and high potentials is important. Understanding this distinction is crucial because:

    • High performers are individuals who consistently deliver outstanding results in their current positions.

    • High potentials, on the other hand, are employees who show promise and are able to take on more challenging roles in the future.

    The nine-box grid is a talent assessment tool designed to categorise team members across nine key data points, evaluating their performance levels and growth potential. This framework aims to fit individuals into nine distinct segments, with one axis representing potential and the other performance.

    However, my primary concern revolves around the concept of ‘potential’. Managers are tasked with predicting how team members will evolve over time. But how can a manager accurately gauge this? What exactly are they measuring? It amounts to little more than guesswork.

    To be considered a ‘star’ performer on this grid, one must exhibit high potential and high performance. If a team member is deemed a poor performer but perceived to have ‘potential’, the manager is expected to invest time, energy, and resources into their development. This approach is as misguided as believing Blackpool Beach donkeys can win the Grand National. It’s simply not going to happen. Don’t squander your resources on poor performers.

    The Impactful Role of High Performers and Team Dynamics in Driving Organisational Success

    High performers are essential in building a high-performance team and contribute significantly to overall team performance. Their unwavering commitment to excellence sets a standard for success and fosters a high performance culture throughout the company.

    Consistent performance is crucial for sustaining team performance. It forms the foundation for sustainable growth. High performers consistently deliver results that boost the company’s profits, and their productivity sets a strong example for others, reinforcing the importance of teamwork and collective success.

    Retaining High Performers

    So, how can organisations keep these valuable employees? The key is to create an environment that supports their growth and satisfaction. Here are some ways to do that:

    1. Recognise their achievements: Praise and appreciate them for their hard work, formally (such as awards or bonuses) and informally (a simple thank you). As part of a weekly check-in, this shows up in tools such as the Gallup Q12 employee engagement assessments.

    2. Provide learning opportunities: Offer training programs or courses allowing high performers to develop their skills and knowledge further.

    3. Offer flexibility and autonomy: Allow them to have control over their work schedule and decision-making process, as this can increase job satisfaction.

    4. Consider the impact on other team members: Ensure the retention strategies

      support a harmonious team environment. Selecting the right mix of individuals with the requisite skills and expertise is crucial to complement other team members’ knowledge, skills, and abilities

      . This includes the role of HR in integrating new team members and managing the departure of high-performing team members, ensuring a smooth transition and continuity within the team.

    5. Have regular conversations: Engage in open dialogues with high performers, seeking their input and providing constructive feedback on their performance. Gallup has found weekly 1:1 check-ins of 10-15 minutes to be the optimum length and cadence.

    By investing in these strategies, organisations demonstrate a genuine commitment to nurturing high-performing individuals, which increases the likelihood of them staying with the company.

    Impact on Employee Happiness and Engagement

    But perhaps the most significant impact of high performers is on employee happiness and engagement. Their leadership creates a positive and motivating atmosphere within their teams. They inspire others through the results they achieve and their strong work ethic, ability to overcome challenges, and unwavering dedication. High performers play a key role in building a successful team by inspiring others and contributing to a positive and motivating atmosphere, which is essential for effective communication, trust, and team development.

    Their influence helps cultivate a lively workplace where everyone feels motivated to do their best. As a result, employee happiness and engagement naturally improve.

    By understanding these dynamics, organisations can better realise the transformative potential of having high performers within their ranks.

    Spotting and Developing High Performers: Building High-Performance Teams in Organisations

    Identifying and nurturing high performers requires a multi-faceted approach. One of the key aspects is the need to measure and evaluate performance beyond numbers.

    High-performing team models play a crucial role in identifying and nurturing high performers within an organisation. These models emphasise the importance of assembling project teams for specific goals. Project teams are temporary teams brought together to complete specific projects or tasks with a definite end. They consist of individuals from various departments, each bringing specialised knowledge and expertise to tackle complex challenges and produce high-quality results. This approach fosters a culture of excellence and collaboration and ensures that diverse expertise is effectively utilised to achieve specific organisational goals.

    Measuring Performance Beyond Numbers

    Traditional performance metrics often provide a skewed view of an employee’s true capabilities. Rather than just focusing on sales numbers or project completion rates, it pays to dig deeper into soft skills and intangible qualities that high performers possess. For instance, their ability to lead, collaborate effectively (particularly true for the executive team) or adapt to change can be significant indicators of their potential for success.

    Assessing Their Impact Through Positive Outlook and Team Contributions

    High performers tend to have a positive outlook that can significantly enhance team dynamics. They often bring energy, enthusiasm, and innovative ideas to the table, boosting overall team productivity. Assessing their impact on the team helps them understand their value beyond individual contributions.

    Get rid of your toxic A-Players

    What is a ‘Toxic A-Player’?

    In the terminology of Brad Smart from Topgrading, an A-Player represents the top 10% of available talent for a given job, salary, and location. You can identify your A-Players by creating job scorecards for all your team members as part of a talent assessment. Generally, these top performers are those you would eagerly re-hire. However, occasionally, you may encounter someone who excels in their role but does not align with your values. These individuals can be toxic.

    Toxic A-Players often possess high levels of social currency but have a negative impact, creating an atmosphere of despair around them. For instance, they might be a senior network engineer with zero emotional intelligence, yet their specific knowledge leads to their continued employment and even praise for their achievements. Alternatively, they might consistently meet sales targets but treat colleagues poorly. Regardless of their role, these individuals can be highly destructive.

    Empowering High Performers Through Autonomy and Trust

    Autonomy is a crucial motivating factor for high performers. By giving them the freedom to experiment and make decisions, organisations can foster a sense of trust and responsibility among these individuals. This empowerment enables them to deliver remarkable results and bolsters their commitment towards the organisation.

    The Crucial Role of Ongoing Feedback in Their Development Journey

    Continuous feedback plays an important role in the development journey of high performers. It helps them identify areas of improvement, align their goals with organisational objectives, and keeps them engaged in their roles. Feedback needs to be constructive, timely, and consistent for it to have a meaningful impact.

    By implementing these strategies, organisations can spot potential high performers early on and provide them with the right environment to grow, thereby leveraging their talents for organisational success.


    The impact of high-performing individuals on organisations is undeniable. Their productivity, efficiency, and a deep-rooted sense of purpose and clarity in their work set them apart from their peers. By consistently exceeding expectations, they contribute to the organisation’s goals and inspire others to strive for excellence.

    To harness this potential and drive organisational success, it is essential for businesses to:

    • Acknowledge the value of high performers. Understand their unique attributes and their key role in achieving business objectives.

    • Cultivate a culture that recognises high performance. This could be through formal or informal recognition programs that validate their hard work and commitment.

    • Reward high performers appropriately. Beyond monetary benefits, consider career advancement opportunities, skill development programs, and other forms of recognition that align with their aspirations.

    Remember that high performers are not just employees who do their jobs well. They are strategic assets that can significantly elevate an organisation’s performance. Therefore, investing time and resources in identifying, developing, and retaining these individuals should be a top priority for every forward-thinking organisation.

    Above all, every organisation must remember that the strength of its team lies not just in the sum of its parts but in the extraordinary potential of its high performers.

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    Written by business coach and CEO mentor Dominic Monkhouse. Read his new book, Mind Your F**king Business here.

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