What Makes an Exceptional Employee: Recognizing & Rewarding Extraordinary Employees

exceptional employee

What makes an exceptional employee? You might be surprised to find that the qualities of an exceptional employee don’t always align with key performance indicators or the best performance reviews. In fact, the exceptional employee on your team might not be the most productive or bring in the most revenue.

But maybe you’re not surprised. High performance doesn’t always correlate to being a team player, and exceptional employees always blend performance with emotional intelligence and an instinctive feel for how to handle difficult situations.

More than cultural fit or performance, managers overwhelmingly cite personality as key to finding and nurturing exceptional employees. So how do you recognize and reward exceptional employees? It’s actually pretty easy because exceptional employees set themselves apart and are easy to please so long as you acknowledge their explicit and implicit contributions to the team.

5 Ways to Spot an Exceptional Employee (& Recognize Their Excellence)

1. Exceptional Employees Have Above-Average Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, according to Psychology Today, is made up of three parts: emotional awareness (of your own and others’ emotions); the ability to use emotions effectively when approaching tasks and solving problems; and the ability to manage emotions (i.e., diffuse situations and either cheer up or calm down yourself and others). Exceptional employees have high emotional intelligence and use this to inform how they approach coworkers, clients, and even problem solving.

You can acknowledge this excellence by leaning on the employee for advice or insight, praising their handling of situations, and giving them responsibility for interpersonal relationships on the team.

2. An Exceptional Employee Shows Lots of Initiative

Exceptional employees often see a problem and fix it (or see an opportunity and take it) without waiting for instruction. That being said, a truly exceptional employee uses emotional intelligence and institutional knowledge to determine when a problem or opportunity should be brought to management versus when it’s better to just take action on their own.

The absolute best way to recognize initiative is to act on it. If an employee comes up with a new program or goes above and beyond for a client, don’t just let that information sit on your desk. Do something with it.

3. Exceptional Employees Keep Disputes Private

Chances are your exceptional employees are problem solvers who identify potential issues well before they become pressing problems. You’ll know an employee is exceptional when they show good judgement about what issues to bring up in group discussions versus which to broach in private.

Again, acknowledgement and action are the best ways to reward exceptional employees, especially in this instance. If an employee comes to you with a concern or a potential problem, act on that problem and make sure the employee is involved in the solution.

4. Exceptional Employees Ask Difficult Questions

Sometimes it’s hard to speak up, whether in public or private. An exceptional employee isn’t afraid to question things he or she sees as needing improvement or clarification. You’ll probably notice that your exceptional employees ask clarifying questions in group settings that their colleagues may have been too reticent to ask and more difficult questions in smaller group or private settings.

Okay, so there are definitely stupid questions, no matter what our elementary school teachers said. But your exceptional employees will always ask questions for a reason. Answer the questions to the best of your ability and if you can’t reward the employee with an answer, create a project or task for the employee to find the answer and present it to the team.

5. An Exceptional Employee is Extremely Focused and Dedicated

And of course, an employee cannot be exceptional if they are not focused and dedicated to their jobs. Exceptional employees will be among your top performers, though they may not be at the very top of the curve. You reward this performance just like you would any other member of your team, with bonuses, more responsibility, and regular praise.

Looking for other ways to encourage employee excellence?

There are many ways you can foster your best employees and encourage outstanding employees to stay with your company for the long haul. Check out the following articles for some helpful tips and suggestions that will help you create and maintain a healthy organizational culture that encourages all employees to be the best they can be.

Corporate Team Building Activities: Have some fun while helping your employees to work better as a team with these corporate team building activities near Boston. These fun outing ideas will feel more like play than work, and will help you strengthen your team – it’s a win win!

Tips to Increase Employee Retention: Want your best employees to stay with your company? Encourage them to! Increase your small business’ employee retention rate with these 10 tips.

How to Keep Employees Happy: When employees are happy with their job and their employer, they tend to perform better. These four tips will help you to keep your employees feeling – and performing – their best.