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5 key differences between those who “do the job” and high performing employees

Summary of Impact Players masterclass with Deborah Keep


If you’ve felt ineffective, demotivated, exhausted, and frustrated at work, it could be signs of languishing, burnout from triggers such as hybrid or remote work, or burnout from being underutilised. Oddly enough, it's as exhausting to be underutilised as it is to be worked to the bone.

At this week’s Impact Players masterclass with accredited coach Deborah Keep, we learned that there are two modes of people at work.

“Position holders” who are underutilised but do their job, and “difference makers” who are deeply utilised and who make an impact.

In this masterclass summary, we discover what makes somebody an impact player, and how to develop more impact players in your team. We end with questions leaders can ask themselves as they hold up a mirror and assess their own impact.

Free Download: 10 Leadership Qualities That Will Help Solve Challenges in 2023

What is an Impact Player?

An Impact Player is the difference maker - that team member who makes a significant contribution individually, but who also has an enormously positive effect on the entire team.

·       They step up when needed, which takes courage.

·       And they do the job that’s needed, not just what’s defined by their role.

The traits and characteristics of these high-performing employees comes from a research project conducted by Liz and her Wiseman Group colleagues. They spoke to 170 leaders in 10 countries from companies including Adobe, NASASalesforce, SAP, Splunk, Google, LinkedIn, and Target about their most competent individual contributors.

2 modes of people at work

The discussions with these household-name companies revealed 2 modes of people at work:

  • Contributors: Those smart, capable, hardworking people doing solid (if not great) work. Note: There are also under-contributors, who are functioning below their capability, who are not specifically discussed here. 

  • High-impact contributors: Dubbed ‘Impact Players’ – Those smart, capable, hardworking contributors who are doing work of exceptional value and impact. The leaders interviewed believed these team members were worth 3.5 x the value of the contributors they worked alongside.

Everyday challenges in the workplace 

Let’s face it, the modern workplace deals with some complex and unpredictable challenges, and many of them are faced daily.

They can be categorised as:

·       Messy problems – not yours, not theirs, but needs someone to own them!

·       Unclear roles – when it’s not clear whose job it is, and no-one is taking initiative.

·       Unforseen obstacles – when something is beyond your control, or your pay grade.

·       Moving targets – when the situation is constantly changing.

·       Unrelenting demands – which are heavy and hard.

When polled, 59% of masterclass participants said they were dealing with all 5 of these challenges at the moment. Only 13% were experiencing two or fewer. 

5 Key Differences in Approach

With these challenges, contributors lead to "a job well done" but Impact Players do more.

This broadly falls into 5 key differentiator groups:

  • Messy problems: While others do their job, Impact Players do the job that’s needed.
  • Unclear roles: While others wait for direction, Impact Players step up and lead, and then step back.
  • Unforseen obstacles: While others do their bit and then step away or escalate problems, Impact Players move things across the finish line. They hold ownership for longer.
  • Moving targets: While others attempt to minimise change, Impact Players learn and adapt to change. They ask and adjust, like a chameleon.
  • Unrelenting demands: While others add to the load, Impact Players will do the work, but make it feel lighter, easier, joyous.

Impact Players Playbook

We learn from the Wiseman study that small differences in how we think and behave can have an enormous impact on our workplace productivity and in the value of our work.

Here is the Impact Player playbook: 


1.     Look for Hot Spots: Look for the job that’s needed to be done. What’s hot/burning? What’s important now? Am I working on the right agenda?

2.     Invite yourself in: Don’t wait to be asked, if you feel you can add value then suggest you be invited to participate (in meetings or projects)

3.     Stop and ask 5 questions: What are we trying to do? Who are we serving? What does success look like? How will we know when we’re finished? What could go wrong?

4.     Recalibrate by 1 degree: Adjust and improve wherever possible.

5.     Play your chips wisely: Modify your contribution as needed. If you talk too much in a meeting pull back (play a smaller value chip).

6.     Put on opportunity goggles: At every moment that you can; they will help you see what is possible.

How do you build a high impact team?

In a nutshell, building more Impact Players in your team requires leaders to give their team members:

·       More freedom

·       More opportunities

·       More recognition

·       Balance between safety and stretch

These are traits of Multiplier leaders, and the opposite of what Diminisher leaders do. For more information about Multiplier and Diminisher leadership traits, read our article: HOW MANY MULTIPLIER AND DIMINISHER LEADERSHIP TRAITS DO YOU HAVE?

Questions for leaders

As participants finished up the masterclass, Deborah Keep suggested they spend some time over the next day or so to ask themselves:

·       How many position holders are on your team? Are you stopping them from playing bigger?

·       How many difference makers are on your team? Do you tell them what impact they are making with their work? 

Top-ranked speaker on culture and work-life coming to Australia


If you're inspired by this masterclass and interested in seeing one of the world's leading authorities on work culture and work-life, don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast (Some categories SOLD OUT). 


About Adam Grant


Adam Grant is a renowned organisational psychologist, bestselling author, and global influencer. Currently ranked #2 top management thinker in the world in the Thinkers50, Adam Grant is Wharton's top-rated professor and has expertise in potential, motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking.


His five New York Times bestselling books Think AgainGive and TakeOriginalsOption B, and Power Moves have resonated with millions of readers in 45 languages. His latest book is Hidden Potential.


With hugely successful TED talks and his TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking, plus a substantial social media following and popular monthly newsletter, Adam Grant is one of the world's most inspiring thinkers and speakers.


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