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Five Characteristics Of High Performing People

Think of a high performing person you are familiar with. Perhaps they’re a work colleague, a master tradesperson, an artist or a sporting professional you follow closely. Take some time to think about the concept of ‘mastery’ and what it is that has helped them become a high performer.

Was it learning the basics well? Was it taking time to practice? Was it meeting and working with other high performers?  Was it having access to top-class support? Was it exposure and experience?

Your answer is probably ‘most of these’.

If we look at a generic profile of a high performer through a 70:20:10 ‘lens’ the following is clear:

1. High Performers have usually mastered the basics quickly.
This has often, but not always been achieved using structured development approaches.
This is where the ‘10’ - formal learning through courses and structured development programmes - can help people new to an organisation or role get ‘up-to-speed’ quickly and efficiently.

2. They have spent hundreds of hours using practice, trial-and-error, and self-testing to hone their capabilities.
Some of this experiential learning and reflective practice may occur within the formal development structure (the ‘10’). Alternatively it may be part of the workflow (the ‘70’ and ‘20’).

3. They are embedded in their professional community both within and outside their organisation.
They regularly share their expertise across their network and also call on colleagues as informal coaches and mentors when they need advice and help.
This vital part of any high performer’s arsenal sits firmly in the ‘20’ part of the framework.  

4. They have on-the-job performance support at their fingertips.
They know where to find the answers to the challenge-at-hand, whether it is via their own PKM (personal knowledge management) resources or simply by knowing who will be best able to help them, their PLN (personal learning network).

Performance support comes in many forms. It may be embedded in workflow tools (where most of the ePSS – electronic performance support - tools and systems provide support), or be accessed through ‘others’ across the high performer’s network. As such, this element can sit in both the ‘20’ and ‘70’ parts of the framework.

5. They have undertaken thousands of hours of experience and reflection, sometimes alone, sometimes with their manager and team, and sometimes with their professional network.
These activities are critical for high performance. They all sit within the ‘70’ and ‘20’ domains of the framework

A 70:20:10 lens reinforces that most of how people develop and improve occurs in the workflow.

How are you guiding and enabling learning within the flow of work in your organisation?

What opportunities can you see to better leverage and support experiential and social learning for individual, team and organisational benefit?

Have you used this post to think about high performing people you know or follow? How are you guiding, supporting and enabling high performance through learning in the workflow? Why not share your comments and experiences with our community. 

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Typically high performing individuals also have high emotional intelligence (including self-awareness), are self-directed and resilience.

You use 70:20:10 on a daily basis and are not aware of it. This is a great article to prove how successful it is and why all organisations need to use this approach.

I think one of the biggest challenges is to get leadership support. Managers are so focussed on delivering projects and their BAU work, that they don't have the capacity to see how the 70:20:10 implementation is a requisite enabler to change.

A “high performer” is an employee who is a key contributor, demonstrates high performance, is capable of a lateral move, may be qualified for a broader role within the same profession and has reached the potential to move “upward' in a management capacity.

A “high performer” is an employee who is a key contributor, demonstrates high performance, is capable of a lateral move, may be qualified for a broader role within the same profession and has reached the potential to move “upward’ in a management capacity.

In many companies performance ratings are developed using "forced ranking" - e.g. only 10% of all employees can be rated 5 out of 5, for example.  The "high performers" are typically considered to be those with a certain rating.

In contrast, the second method for describing employee value is "potential" - which is often considered an individual's potential to grow at least two additional levels (managerially or professionally) in the organization.  In most companies performance and potential are evaluated separately

High-performance burnout can be a big problem.

Ambition, solid goals, and a can-do attitude matter little if a worker can’t juggle time well. High performers understand the basics of time management well enough to create a work/life balance that maximizes their personal productivity without exhausting themselves.

You’ve probably experienced an occasional pleasant surprise when someone you’ve written off as average suddenly rises to the top of the performance ladder. Similarly, you may have suffered disappointment at the hands of a “sure thing.”

In the end, performance matters, not appearance, so take care not to mistake style for substance.

Search for the five characteristics outlined here before assuming you have a firecracker on your team.

“Masters of disguise,” who depend on their winning personalities to get them on board, usually can’t hide their weaknesses well enough to evade careful scrutiny.

True high performers exhibit a fearless, ambitious, action-oriented and — above all else — results-oriented approach that no one can easily fake

Let’s look at the characteristics of high performing individuals in the modern world of work.


We live in a world where the global village has shrunk boundaries and we are forming new types of communities. We have new tribes developing and different ways for creating relationships.


In a world where the rate of change is accelerating on a consistent basis high-performing individuals are never overwhelmed by change. Talent is able to make the changes needed to adapt, succeed and thrive.


Longevity is one of the leading trends in our changing world,we will all be living progressively longer. One of the implications is that we will be working for longer too. High-performing talented individuals know that the value of what they know erodes over time. They take charge of their learning and development and spend a lifetime continually learning.


High performing people are innovators. They innovate effectively by having a tolerance for risk and an acceptance of failure as part of the process of eventually getting things right. They do however know that if something fails it must fail quickly and cheaply, and they learn lessons through this process.


Success is not a solo endeavor. Talent today use online and offline tools to build effective and extended networks of other talented individuals who will help them achieve their goals. They also freely share their skills with their network as they understand that the power of networks lie in the collaboration unlocked through them.