Have you ever left a meeting where you and several colleagues were handed a daunting problem to solve -- and thought to yourself: "Am I glad that Deborah is on this team -- she always comes through in the crunch."
Deborah is one of the "vital few". (You probably are, too, if you recognized her so readily.)
Researchers have discovered that, in virtually every organization, there's a small cadre of people (usually about 15%) who regularly spearhead progress and overcome obstacles.
The good news is: the rest of us can learn their secrets!
To get conferees "revved up" to learn these techniques, I like to play a little trick on them. First, I dramatize what the researchers have discovered, by saying: "All of you are highly productive professionals in your field. But some of you -- about 15% -- are outstanding in a special way. I'd like those individuals I'm talking about, to please stand up."
The attendees are a little startled as, throughout the ballroom, there's a bustle and scraping of chairs as people pop up everywhere. Suddenly everyone feels the exhilaration of something special happening, though they're not quite sure what it is!
To explain, I point out that in every organization, every industry and profession, every association, there are a 'vital few' -- a small minority who always seem to be the ones who come through in the crunch. When the going gets tough -- when things are stymied and a "breakthrough" solution is needed -- it is usually one of this small cadre, who saves the day.
The people I've asked to stand symbolize that "vital few" in this group.
"What distinguishes these top performers?", I ask. "What traits do they have -- and how could the rest of us learn those traits?"
Then I explain briefly how one company found the answer, as reported the Harvard Business Review for July-August, l993 .
In this pioneering investigation, tests were administered to try to determine what set apart "the vital few." But no significant differences were discovered in their innate ability, talent, interests, background, or education. Only through in-depth interviews and long-term observation of their behavior, did management learn their secrets. The findings apply to most organizations, industries, and professions.
"OK, let's hear from these star performers," I propose.
Now, half a dozen of the "stars" who have stood up, each shout out one trait or technique they use regularly to attain their top performance. "I know how to keep myself motivated," says one. "I've got a great support group of colleagues who I can confide in," explains another.
As each one speaks, he or she, at my behest, plops onto their head a colorful cardboard crown (mine come from a recent Burger Kind promotion). At the same time, a dramatic slide, naming their trait, appears on the screen up front.
Of course, I've prepared these participants beforehand. (Whenever possible, I use the list of attendees who are being honored for outstanding achievement at the meeting.)
These five traits characterize the "star performers" in every field:
1. They are self-starters -- they "light their own
fires," in the words of Thoreau.
2. They maintain robust networks within their organization
-- for information, support, and mutual assistance.
3. They "team" well, coordinating their efforts with
other people's, helping build consensus, etc.
4. They persist, keeping up their energy even
if the face of delays and set-backs.
5. They manage themselves -- including being aware of,
and regulating, their emotions.
Now, a final slide sums up this little drama. It's titled "What We Will Accomplish," and it is the agenda for the session. "These crucial traits for becoming a 'star' are what we will master in this session," I announce.
There they are, up on the screen: Self-Motivation, Networking, Team-work, Persistence, and Self-Management.
As you can well imagine, this dramatization ignites attendees for some serious learning. Plus, it assures them that our work together will be as involving, inter-active, and stirring as this start-up!
Copyright 1999, Ronald Gross