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As a keen student of high performance and a casual golf fan, I was delighted when, last month, 51 year old Peter Senior won the 2010 Australian PGA title, ahead of runner-up, 33 year-old Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open champion.

Both players finished the 72 hole tournament tied on 276 and Senior won on the second extra hole in sudden death play-off.

This was a remarkable result for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Peter Senior has not been a full-time member of either of the major tours in the golfing world, the European Tour or the US PGA Tour, for many years. And as a result, Senior is currently ranked 255th in the world.

Geoff Ogilvy has been a full-time member of the US PGA Tour for 10 years and is currently ranked at number 25 in the world.

Geoff Ogilvy has career earnings in excess of USD$25 million and his last tournament victory was in January this year, whereas Peter Senior’s career earnings just exceed AUD$6 million and he had failed to chalk up a victory on the regular tour (as distinct from the Senior tour) since his previous Australian PGA victory in 2003.

Secondly, Peter Senior stands at 170cm (5 feet, 7 inches), weighs 80kg (12 stone, 8lb), has a beer gut, waddles and has a golf swing more akin to a suburban weekend golfer.

Geoff Ogilvy is 188cm (6 feet, 2 inches), weighs 82 kg (13 stone), has the taut and lean appearance of a global athlete and possesses a golf swing that makes the purists sigh in delight.

In other words, if you were in the school playground picking teams, Geoff Ogilvy would be the first picked and Peter Senior the last picked.

One of the beauties of sport is that the scoreboard doesn’t lie. The player who delivers the performance when it matters, takes home the trophy and the winner’s cheque.

How good an athlete ‘looks’ is irrelevant. The player the experts ‘think’ should win doesn’t matter. All that matters is a player doing what’s required, better than their competitor(s), to win.

As a recruiter, when you interview candidates, do you ignore the Peter Seniors of your candidate market? The people who, on the surface, might look average but are in fact, high performers.

Are you taken in by how a candidate looks? How they sound? Do you know the right questions to ask to discover whether they are a high performer, or not?

To assist you, there is a remarkably consistent set of criteria that sets apart high performers in the workplace, from their more moderately-performing colleagues.

In his excellent book, Working with Emotional Intelligence (Bloomsbury, 1998), author Daniel Goleman, identifies three motivational competencies consistent across high performers in any workplace.

These three motivational competencies are:

  1. Achievement Drive: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence
  2. Commitment: Embracing the organisation’s or group’s vision and goals
  3. Initiative and optimism: Twin competencies that mobilise people to seize opportunities and allow them to take setbacks and obstacles in their stride

These specific criteria are reinforced by the most recent Hudson 20:20 white paper Positioning for Growth: Building a Dynamic Workforce In A New Economic Era. In this white paper, surveyed employees were asked What would you say is the difference between a high performer and an average performer?

The results came back as follows:

  1. Exceeding targets (29%)
  2. Motivation (17%)
  3. Positive attitude/willingness to work (13%
  4. Showing initiative (11%)
  5. Looking to improve/challenge themselves (11%)
  6. Loyalty to the business/commitment to the job (11%)

All six of these responses can be directly matched to the three motivational competencies, as defined by Goleman.

An organisation that can identify, hire (and keep) more high performers than their competitors, will be doing the most important thing in beating or staying ahead of their competitors.

Google have long been touted as a stand-out example of an organisation that is able to identify, recruit and retain high performing employees – with good reason.

Just compare Google’s results over the past eight years, with respect to their major technology-talent peers.

What is extraordinary about these figures is that 9 years ago, Google was generating sales that were less than 2% of Microsoft’s sales, yet now Google’s sharemarket valuation is 80% that of Microsoft’s.Even more impressive is that Google is now twice as profitable, on a per-employee basis, compared to Microsoft.

That’s the sort of difference high performers can make to an organisation, in a relatively short period of time.

What’s the moral in all this for recruiters?

Easy. If you are able to consistently identify and recruit high performers, at a better strike rate than your competitors, then not only will you have more clients than you can possibly service but you will also be dealing with the very nice ‘problem’ of having various clients offering you fee surcharges to get first access to your best candidates.

What are you doing to be known as the best recruiter in your market at identifying and recruiting high performers?

Oh … and the other moral: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Meaning … don’t immediately write off the next old, short guy with a beer gut you interview.


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Jonathan Rice

Very true Ross and I love the analogy. As a rec-to-rec recruiter I know straight away when I interview a "Geoff Ogilvy" type that he will be an easy sell to my clients, even if he is lacking in other important areas to be a successful recruiter. Those 3 motivational competencies espoused by Goleman are the core factors that make up the DNA of a top-performing recruiter, and that is what recruitment clients should really be looking for first and foremost – I know I will.


Great post Ross.

Great employees are perhaps among the top 3 elements of the organization's success and yet many companies, including those in the Headhunting and Recruitment business, tend to forget it. GFC was perhaps a great measure of this, demonstrating and differentiating between companies that can recognize true potential and those that hire and fire by the dozens (aka burn and churn shops).

In regards to google, while good employees have certainly contributed towards their success (and they are famous for being an employer of choice), I think the industry google is in and their methodology has been perhaps the most important contributing factor. They have succeeded for similar reasons facebook became a success over night. A brilliant idea that was implemented in an excellent fashion.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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