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Separating Great Employees from The Truly Exceptional

Most employers could tell you immediately what a great employee looks like. They possess that easy to define skillset of reliability, innovativeness, persistence and proactivity that’s hard to find in a single person.

However, there are employees who go one step even beyond this. Rarer even than a great employee, these people are often not recognised as the real asset they are. Propelled past their colleagues by a unique combination of qualities and skills, they are all too frequently overlooked during performance reviews despite the huge benefit they bring to the team and the broader business.

What does an exceptional employee look like?

Roubler has helped thousands of businesses find the talent they need to succeed. Here are eight signs you’ve got a rare breed of person on your hands.

Innovative thinking

You’ll know exceptional employees because they’re always looking to see what they can do outside of their position description. They’ll be asking themselves and you what they can do to help the team succeed, rapidly adapting to shifting circumstances and priorities.

Some call me quirky

The very best managers can recognise unconventional thinking for what it is – a benefit to the company and a welcome break from the normal. Sometimes it takes an eccentric to get the job done, and the very best and most dynamic employees can often be a little bit irreverent. Introducing them to an established, well-developed team can seem a bit intimidating, but don’t be afraid. Often introducing these wildcards to an effective – if a little too comfortable – team can invigorate the other members. They’re lack of fear at being seen as different is going to lead them to push boundaries and open up opportunities for your business.

Putting the team before themselves

While unconventional thinking has its place, sometimes you need to be able to rely on a team to work seamlessly together. A truly exceptional employee has the versatility to know when to let their personality shine through and when to knuckle-under and work shoulder-to-shoulder with other team members. Knowing when to be serious and when to play, when to buck the trend and when to toe the company line, and when to suggest and when to take direction is a skill few have.

Recognising great work, no matter the craftsman

The very best employees approach others’ work without ego or envy. If they see fantastic work, they’ll applaud it, no matter who did it. The dedication to the team and to celebrating every accomplishment, no matter who was responsible, are always sought after.

Social problem solvers

While every good employer hopes their employees feel comfortable bringing delicate or sensitive matters to their attention, sadly only a few are likely to have the social graces necessary. Great employees may look to table these issues at meetings and poll the team. Truly exceptional employees recognise when this is appropriate and when a one-on-one meeting would be more productive. They’ll know when addressing these issues in public could negatively impact their own position, management’s position and the team at large.

Saying what’s on everyone’s mind

It only takes one person to ask the question that everyone’s thinking. Even the most diverse and well-rounded workforce may only have a few people prepared to speak up at these points. Truly exceptional employees will be the ones to ask if anyone has noticed something when yes, everyone has noticed. That empathy and the innate understanding of the issues that they and the team face sets them apart.

Driven by more than money

Whether they’re doing it for knowledge, love of the craft, the development of their education, or even just to prove that it can be done, exceptional employees are often set apart by their motivation. Doing it for more than just money and working for something greater than the organisation means they’ll pull rest of the team up with them.

Never satisfied

An exceptional employee is never satisfied. Those with a true passion for their work can always see where they could have done better. They are always looking to take their work to that next level. Where good employees follow processes and great employees tweak them, exceptional employees reinvent them. They do this not because they have to, but because they can’t stand working under an inefficient system.


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