Why you should be on the look out for ‘Impact Players’


If you want to coach employees to make a valuable contribution, take a leaf from Liz Wiseman’s book. In part one of HRM’s series on Impact Players, we dive into what makes these employees stand out from the pack.

If I said you could hire an employee who offers you three times the value of a single person, or you could hire a safe bet who’ll give you the value of just one person, who would you pick?

It’s a no-brainer, right? Yet, more often than not, we find those sitting in the former camp are the dominant group in an organisation.  Why is it that top-notch contributors are such rare finds? Liz Wiseman, author, researcher and leadership expert, is on a mission to figure that out. 

She has interviewed hundreds of employees, managers, executives and HR professionals to learn about the makings of A-grade leaders and employees, who she calls Multipliers and Impact Players, respectively – both titles of books she has written.

Ahead of her keynote address at AHRI’s Convention in August, Wiseman offers advice on how to coach and develop high-impact employees in your organisation – or to become one yourself.

Employees with that special touch

Impact Players is a metaphor Wiseman borrowed from the world of sports. They’re the standout contributors on a team who always make the right plays, but they don’t hog the spotlight – they set their team up for winning shots too.

In a work context, they’re employees who lighten their manager’s load and create added value for each project they take on. Think of the person who offers helpful summary notes at the end of each meeting (without being asked to), or the one who brings levity to stressful situations.

They’re also people who add a small element of surprise to their work, she says. For example, say someone was asked to spend a week compiling a report.

“The typical contributor would turn in the report, whereas the Impact Player would turn in the report and add a Post-it note that says, ‘You’ll probably be most interested in the conclusions on pages 12 and 42.’ That didn’t involve burning the midnight oil. It’s just learning to think like, ‘How can I help my manager to do their job?’”

“It’s not forsaking your job, but seeing your job like base camp. That’s where you hang out most of the time, but if there’s a problem that arises up the mountain, you have proximity to get there.” – Liz Wiseman

Impact Players tend to deliver three times the value of a Typical Contributor and 10 times the value of an Under Contributor, her research found. One manager at NASA offered an even more impressive number.

“He’s a scientist, so I thought he was going to say 2.75 or between that and 2.8, but he said, ‘Conservatively speaking, I would estimate it at 20-30 times greater.’ It wasn’t that the person was working 20-30 times harder; nobody can do that. It was because she was focused on the right issues and had the right mission in mind.” 

When researching different types of employees, Wiseman put people into three categories: the Impact Player, the Typical Contributor and the Under Contributor. The difference between the first and last group is clear, but the distinguishing factors between Impact Players and Typical Contributors, who Wiseman says are usually as intelligent and capable as each other, is interesting.

“In a room full of equally smart, talented, capable, hard-working people, why are some people just doing a solid job and why are others having a huge impact? It’s usually well-intentioned people who are doing a good job, but they’re limiting themselves by just going through the motions.”

The distinguishing factors came down to how much range people had in their work.

“What was fascinating to me was how managers described Typical Contributors. These weren’t low or average performers. They’re just typical. They might be phenomenal at their job, whereas the Impact Players are doing the work that needs to be done, where the problems are messy. They might sit in between departments, and they don’t always fit nicely in the org chart.

“An Impact Player has a healthy disregard for their job description.”

This can be a fine line to walk, as people who work outside the boundaries of their job can risk overstepping.

“It’s a real art form. It’s not forsaking your job, but seeing your job like base camp. That’s where you hang out most of the time, but if there’s a problem that arises up the mountain, you have proximity to get there.”

Headshot of Liz Wiseman

Developing a mentality of service

When hunting for your Impact Players, it’s important to avoid elevating prima donnas or those who feel entitled to constantly take the wheel, she says.

“Fundamentally, it’s a mentality of service. It’s about being proactive but not presumptuous. Say you’re in a leaderless meeting and someone needs to step in and take charge. You wouldn’t just take charge because you’ll step on toes. Check in and ask, ‘Would it be helpful to the group if I took charge of this meeting?’ Don’t assume you’re the only person who could lead that meeting.”

This is another difference between Typical Contributors and Impact Players. Contributors wait for direction, whereas Impact Players are willing to fill a leadership vacuum.

“It’s not just about stepping up, but also stepping back when you’re done. It’s much like a flock of migrating birds flying in a V formation. One bird goes to the front to take the lead. When they tire, they pull back and let another bird take their spot.”

How can you turn someone into an Impact Player?

By now, you might be thinking, how can I go about mining for these gems? Stay tuned next week for part two of this article, where we’ll share some of Wiseman’s tips on finding and developing Impact Players.

For now, if this is something that has piqued your interest, don’t do what one CEO did after reading a copy of ‘Impact Players’. He sent a company-wide email which stated the five practices required to be a success at the company, based on Wiseman’s book.

“The people who were already behaving that way felt under-appreciated, and the people who weren’t were like, ‘What’s he talking about?’ When people become excited about my work, it’s very easy to become prescriptive. They’ll say, ‘You should do this,’ which of course presumes that people aren’t already doing that.

“It’s less about disseminating the ideas and more about discussing them.”

Outline what Impact Players, then invite people to talk about any blockers they’ve experienced that could be preventing these behaviours from surfacing in your workplace.

Importantly, Wiseman says these conversations are most fruitful when leadership is willing to do some self-reflection into their own behaviour beforehand. 

That could mean looking at the barriers that prevent people from feeling like they can step up. Or it could be reassessing how work is conducted so people don’t feel stuck in their own world.

Then, once you’ve created your own laundry list of action items, you can determine a plan forward, alongside your teams, and move towards being an organisation that truly has impact. 

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2022 edition of HRM magazine.


Want to learn more about Liz Wiseman’s research into Impact Players? Sign up to attend her one-day masterclass, as part of AHRI’s Convention, or secure your spot at the main program to hear her keynote address.


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Why you should be on the look out for ‘Impact Players’


If you want to coach employees to make a valuable contribution, take a leaf from Liz Wiseman’s book. In part one of HRM’s series on Impact Players, we dive into what makes these employees stand out from the pack.

If I said you could hire an employee who offers you three times the value of a single person, or you could hire a safe bet who’ll give you the value of just one person, who would you pick?

It’s a no-brainer, right? Yet, more often than not, we find those sitting in the former camp are the dominant group in an organisation.  Why is it that top-notch contributors are such rare finds? Liz Wiseman, author, researcher and leadership expert, is on a mission to figure that out. 

She has interviewed hundreds of employees, managers, executives and HR professionals to learn about the makings of A-grade leaders and employees, who she calls Multipliers and Impact Players, respectively – both titles of books she has written.

Ahead of her keynote address at AHRI’s Convention in August, Wiseman offers advice on how to coach and develop high-impact employees in your organisation – or to become one yourself.

Employees with that special touch

Impact Players is a metaphor Wiseman borrowed from the world of sports. They’re the standout contributors on a team who always make the right plays, but they don’t hog the spotlight – they set their team up for winning shots too.

In a work context, they’re employees who lighten their manager’s load and create added value for each project they take on. Think of the person who offers helpful summary notes at the end of each meeting (without being asked to), or the one who brings levity to stressful situations.

They’re also people who add a small element of surprise to their work, she says. For example, say someone was asked to spend a week compiling a report.

“The typical contributor would turn in the report, whereas the Impact Player would turn in the report and add a Post-it note that says, ‘You’ll probably be most interested in the conclusions on pages 12 and 42.’ That didn’t involve burning the midnight oil. It’s just learning to think like, ‘How can I help my manager to do their job?’”

“It’s not forsaking your job, but seeing your job like base camp. That’s where you hang out most of the time, but if there’s a problem that arises up the mountain, you have proximity to get there.” – Liz Wiseman

Impact Players tend to deliver three times the value of a Typical Contributor and 10 times the value of an Under Contributor, her research found. One manager at NASA offered an even more impressive number.

“He’s a scientist, so I thought he was going to say 2.75 or between that and 2.8, but he said, ‘Conservatively speaking, I would estimate it at 20-30 times greater.’ It wasn’t that the person was working 20-30 times harder; nobody can do that. It was because she was focused on the right issues and had the right mission in mind.” 

When researching different types of employees, Wiseman put people into three categories: the Impact Player, the Typical Contributor and the Under Contributor. The difference between the first and last group is clear, but the distinguishing factors between Impact Players and Typical Contributors, who Wiseman says are usually as intelligent and capable as each other, is interesting.

“In a room full of equally smart, talented, capable, hard-working people, why are some people just doing a solid job and why are others having a huge impact? It’s usually well-intentioned people who are doing a good job, but they’re limiting themselves by just going through the motions.”

The distinguishing factors came down to how much range people had in their work.

“What was fascinating to me was how managers described Typical Contributors. These weren’t low or average performers. They’re just typical. They might be phenomenal at their job, whereas the Impact Players are doing the work that needs to be done, where the problems are messy. They might sit in between departments, and they don’t always fit nicely in the org chart.

“An Impact Player has a healthy disregard for their job description.”

This can be a fine line to walk, as people who work outside the boundaries of their job can risk overstepping.

“It’s a real art form. It’s not forsaking your job, but seeing your job like base camp. That’s where you hang out most of the time, but if there’s a problem that arises up the mountain, you have proximity to get there.”

Headshot of Liz Wiseman

Developing a mentality of service

When hunting for your Impact Players, it’s important to avoid elevating prima donnas or those who feel entitled to constantly take the wheel, she says.

“Fundamentally, it’s a mentality of service. It’s about being proactive but not presumptuous. Say you’re in a leaderless meeting and someone needs to step in and take charge. You wouldn’t just take charge because you’ll step on toes. Check in and ask, ‘Would it be helpful to the group if I took charge of this meeting?’ Don’t assume you’re the only person who could lead that meeting.”

This is another difference between Typical Contributors and Impact Players. Contributors wait for direction, whereas Impact Players are willing to fill a leadership vacuum.

“It’s not just about stepping up, but also stepping back when you’re done. It’s much like a flock of migrating birds flying in a V formation. One bird goes to the front to take the lead. When they tire, they pull back and let another bird take their spot.”

How can you turn someone into an Impact Player?

By now, you might be thinking, how can I go about mining for these gems? Stay tuned next week for part two of this article, where we’ll share some of Wiseman’s tips on finding and developing Impact Players.

For now, if this is something that has piqued your interest, don’t do what one CEO did after reading a copy of ‘Impact Players’. He sent a company-wide email which stated the five practices required to be a success at the company, based on Wiseman’s book.

“The people who were already behaving that way felt under-appreciated, and the people who weren’t were like, ‘What’s he talking about?’ When people become excited about my work, it’s very easy to become prescriptive. They’ll say, ‘You should do this,’ which of course presumes that people aren’t already doing that.

“It’s less about disseminating the ideas and more about discussing them.”

Outline what Impact Players, then invite people to talk about any blockers they’ve experienced that could be preventing these behaviours from surfacing in your workplace.

Importantly, Wiseman says these conversations are most fruitful when leadership is willing to do some self-reflection into their own behaviour beforehand. 

That could mean looking at the barriers that prevent people from feeling like they can step up. Or it could be reassessing how work is conducted so people don’t feel stuck in their own world.

Then, once you’ve created your own laundry list of action items, you can determine a plan forward, alongside your teams, and move towards being an organisation that truly has impact. 

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2022 edition of HRM magazine.


Want to learn more about Liz Wiseman’s research into Impact Players? Sign up to attend her one-day masterclass, as part of AHRI’s Convention, or secure your spot at the main program to hear her keynote address.


guest
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Inline Feedbacks
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More on HRM