5 Traits of an Ideal Employee: A Manager's Perspective

At some point in time, most of our clients will call us up when they are hiring new employees.

Whether the open position is a CXO or CSR, the questions are pretty much the same.

They want to know what we, given our expertise in employee behaviour, would look for if WE were doing the hiring.

They want to know what we would consider an "ideal employee".

So, based on two decades of knowledge and experience working with companies...

And turning some of the roughest employees into some of the most committed and productive ones...

Here is the advice we give.


First, I want to make it abundantly clear, we are NOT HR professionals.

So, you may be wondering, "why don't your clients just ask their HR department this question?"

Well, if you (like us) hail from the management side of business, I suspect you have already answered this question on your own.

If you are one of our many readers who works in HR, the answer (as we are told) will provide you with an opportunity to increase your value to hiring managers within your organization...

Simply put, HR doesn't know

Through no fault  of their own, most HR practitioners have never managed employees and, therefore, must rely on textbook theory and second-hand information to support hiring managers.

And even then, textbooks focus on the technical side of things rather than the drivers behind the technical side...namely HUMAN BEHAVIOUR.

So, as I offer this advice, I mean no disrespect to anyone in HR...please treat the rest of this article as an opportunity to (possibly) expand your knowledge and perspectives.



Employee performance is the direct result of the choices employees make.

Whether an employee chooses to give all of their effort and attention or they choose to embrace laziness and shirk their duties, they own their choice 100%.

However, while employees are 100% accountable for their work performance, their choices can be influenced by external factors.

The most common is the quality of the relationship between worker and manager.

If employees dislike, resent, distrust, or don't respect their manager, their own efforts will reflect this.

Yet, these feelings towards a manager are often the result of misunderstandings created by workers NOT standing and speaking up for themselves.

Here is a VERY common example:

It is Friday and you have 3 projects that must be completed by the end of the day. 

Your boss walks up, puts another folder on your desk and asks you to work on it.

You say "ok" to your manager but what you are thinking is: 

"Another project? But I will barely get the 3 I am already working on completed by the end of the day! How am I going to get this one done too? And on a Friday? I won't be out of here until midnight now! What an a--hole!"

Obviously, less than ideal behaviour from an employee.

Further, chances are the manager isn't a bad person looking to ruin your weekend.

And, chances are, if you had stood up for yourself and politely explained that you didn't have the capacity in your workday to accommodate the request, your manager would have either told you to do it next week OR assigned it to someone else.


So...who owns the problem?

The whole situation could have been prevented if you had spoken up and said something like:

"I would be happy to, boss. But my day is already taken up with these other 3 projects. So, I can either work on it next week OR I can work on it today but that means one or more of these other projects won't be completed. Which would you prefer?"

And, if the manager had told you to work on it that day, you could also ask:

"OK, so based on your priorities, which of these other 3 projects should be postponed until next week?"

Does this work? YES! I used this tactic, personally, thousands of times in my career when dealing with managers, business owners, and clients. 

Look for employees who exude the operating philosophy of, "if I can, I will" (but if I can't, work with me to determine the next best alternative).


A bad decision, mistake, or error made once is quite likely an accident.

A bad decision or mistake made over and over is almost always the result of:

  • the ego refusing to acknowledge a mistake was made;
  • the fear of accepting ownership of the mistake leading to attempts to hide it.

When asked by clients to sit in on candidate interviews, I always listen for examples where the candidate openly speaks about mistakes they have made.

I also listen carefully to how they explain the situation...

Specifically, are they taking complete ownership for their part? Or are they deflecting that ownership on to someone else.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but what I look for is a candidate who is proud of his or her mistakes.

Now, I don't mean mistakes resulting from mere carelessness.

What I am looking for are those diamonds in the rough who have been willing to take a chance, try something new, test a hypothesis.

I am looking for the employee-entrepreneurs I have previously written about.

The most common mistake I have seen hiring managers make is seeking employees who never make mistakes.

Because to never make a mistake means an employee needs to master their technical skills

Mastering these skills requires practicing the same thing over and over and over.

The problem with this is that technical masters become obsolete quickly as methods of doing business change rapidly and the mastered skills are no longer relevant. 

Instead, managers need to seek employees who will take chances despite the possibility of failure and try out new approaches and methods.

Seek out employees who are the ones that live the motto:

To get better results, you must engage in better actions.

And this is only possible if an employee is willing to try, fail, and then try again.


No, I am not referring to those employees who have massive egos and love to talk about their successes or how amazing they perceive themselves to be.

I am referring to the trait that underlies their success.

In my experience, those employees who develop a strong reputation for getting superior results are those who recognize that they own their success.

This requires that they understand and accept that the degree to which they are successful in their career is the result of their own actions and behaviours.

This understanding then leads to employees taking the appropriate action to achieve the success that they desire.

If they want to get a raise, they recognize they first need to demonstrate to their employer why they are now more valuable to the company.

If they want more opportunities to participate on special projects, they must recognize that it is up to them to obtain the necessary skills needed to make a valuable contribution to those projects.

Whatever success an employee wants to achieve, preferred employees see the achievement of this success...and all that must come before achieving it...solely  as their responsibility and no one else's.


When discussing the "fit" of an employee, it is common to establish if they share the values of the company.

In small, owner-managed businesses where the company's values and the owner-manager's values are the same, this is true.

However, in larger companies it is far less likely that the values of the hiring manager are identical to the stated values of the company...

(Let's face it, most corporate value statements are produced by the Marketing department and do not reflect the operating culture of the business, anyway.)

This is why we always advise the hiring manager to identify his or her own values because it will be these that define the operating culture of the department in which a new employee will work.

It will be the hiring manager's values that ultimately determine if an employee is deemed a good "fit" or not.

This typically extends to the new employee's coworkers as well because most people choose to surround themselves with people who are like them.

This means the chances are good that the hiring manager has, unconsciously, already stacked the team with people that reflect and share his or her values.

So, ideal employees share common values with their manager and coworkers.


62% of all relationships fail because of an attitude of indifference.

The same applies to the relationship employees have with their work.

When a new employee gets hired, they put 100% of their effort into their work because they need to prove themselves.

As time passes, however, their level of effort steadily declines as they begin to feel more comfortable in their role...

And I am not using the word "comfortable" in a positive way.

In this context, comfortable implies complacent

It is as if employees, on some level, recognize that it is easier for their boss to accept their mediocre (also referred to as "adequate") performance than it is to fire them and find someone better.

I used to throw candidates for a loop in interviews where I would ask them to describe for me their 235th day on the job.

I would wait for them to answer and then would ask them to describe for me their first week on the job.

I would estimate that 9 in 10 or even 19 in 20 provided very different answers to these questions.

However, I looked for the employees (the 1 in 10 or 20) whose answers were almost identical in nature.


How an employee, or prospective employee, approaches his or her job is ultimately what determines if they will be ideal for it or not.

Technical skills alone do little to create the conditions that guarantee and employee will be successful.

As a manager, I care more about whether an employee takes ownership and accountability for what they achieve...

For what they don't achieve...

And whether they keep the pressure on to achieve more.

Are you ready to teach your employees how to better fit the company's vision and become its ideal employees? Contact us to arrange a full-day seminar so that your employees learn the skills to successfully take ownership over their own results.