A great employee can be worth their weight in gold and finding one can be somewhat akin to winning the lottery. The ideals around what makes a “great employee” however, are constantly changing. Whereas the ideal employee of yesteryear might have been one that kept their head down, did their job and had a certain skill set, the “great employees” of tomorrow are generally those that are flexible and adaptable and display great leadership potential.
The truth is, great employees of the past were probably not great employees for the reasons their bosses and managers might have thought. For instance, a great employee will work hard to be excellent at whatever you give them to do. If you only gave them one job for 30 years, they would most definitely be excellent at it, but they would be just as excellent if you gave them 30 different tasks in that same time period. A less stellar employee may have done an adequate job of doing the same thing for 30 years just because anyone tends to get good at something they do for a long time. That doesn’t mean they would have fared as well if their jobs had changed, however. The ability to perform tasks well is also not the only thing that makes a great employee.
Modern HR philosophies revolve around the idea that it is also important for an employee to fit in well with company culture. This is actually true if you have a healthy company culture. One “bad apple” can spoil a whole bunch, so if you have great company culture it is highly important to find employees whose work ethic and personal values are in alignment with your culture. The opposite is also true, however. If you have a less-than-stellar company culture, you might be surprised what a difference just a single employee can make.
While it is important to hire employees that fit in well with the company culture you want to have, it is also important to acknowledge when the culture you are asking an employee to work in is less than favorable. By giving support to employees trying hard to make a difference, you can help them become the “guiding light” of your business. If you don’t provide them the support they need, however, your “bad apples” are the ones that will be setting the pace.