How to Identify the Key Employees in Your Team

Oleh Rozvadovskyy, Pavooq CEO and Founder
Oleh Rozvadovskyy
July 29, 2021
Understanding how to identify key employees in a team or organization is vital for several reasons.

For starters, if you want to grow or reconfigure your team, you need to know which employees are essential to maintain standards, processes, and client relationships. The value of a company is often linked to the performance of its best people. By gauging their influence, you can better plan for their absence – whether that's temporary or permanent.

Meanwhile, if you want to maintain or improve performance, you need to know how to spot and retain your company's most valuable performers (MVPs). These are the team members integral to the short and long-term operational success of a business.

If there's an apparent over-reliance on certain employees, you'll want to negotiate with them directly to keep them happy, engaged, and in place, rather than risk losing them to a competitor.

So, how do you pinpoint the cream of the crop? And what exactly are you looking for? In short, a key employee has a unique mix of personality, knowledge, connections, and output — and here, we break it all down.

In this article:

  • What do we mean by a "key employee"?
  • How do you identify talented employees in your business?
  • The traits key employees share and why they matter

What is a key employee?

You might think there's a degree of subjectivity when defining a key employee. However, in reality, they all have the same things in common.

A key employee is one whose exceptional performance, skills, influence, and/or knowledge can be tangibly linked to the success of an organization.

In other words, a key employee is so much more than an important, likable, or loyal member of the team. To be considered key personnel, they must:

  • Possess specialist knowledge, certifications, or licenses necessary to keep the business operational;
  • Positively influence their colleagues (potentially acting as a link between teams or departments);
  • Maintain strong relationships with clients and vendors;
  • And (above all else) be difficult to replace.

Put it this way: you don't want to lose a key employee to a competitor!

How do you identify key employees?

In addition to what we've mentioned above, a key employee should demonstrate the following:

They routinely exceed expectations

Whatever their role or remit, your key employees find ways to go above and beyond. Whether that's by supporting their colleagues or solving problems for customers, their actions clearly and positively contribute to the organization's ongoing success

They drive strategy

Your key employees aren't satisfied with waiting for direction. They're proactive by nature, pitching ideas and following through with a plan to shape the company's future.

Their presence affects performance

If you think of a company's employees as Jenga pieces, some can be removed easily without impacting the overall structure. Others, however, are critical — and if removed, the whole thing can come toppling down
But here's the thing. Spotting these qualities can often prove challenging for business owners (and prospective business owners). When tasked with identifying key employees, they place likability, loyalty, and general "busyness" higher in terms of importance — and this sometimes leads to the genuinely indispensable team members being overlooked.

So, when it comes to picking out the most important individuals, you need to take emotion out of the equation. And that's where people analytics (like Pavooq) can help.

How can Pavooq help you identify key employees?

When assessing key employees, you need to take an objective view (one not influenced by feelings). With Pavooq, you can measure how people communicate with one another inside a team, department, or organization.

Our tool builds a work communications graph based on data generated by Slack, which helps HR specialists identify key influencers. Using the chart, you can understand who shapes the opinions of others, who is the most productive, and where issues like a lack of diversity or project bottlenecks might harm overall performance.


Pavooq People Analytics
Here's what you might want to look out for:

    How to spot the traits key employees share – and why it matters

    Personality

    • Like moths to a flame, team members are drawn to key employees thanks in large part to their character. And we don't mean the fact they're friendly or funny. Instead, it's their infectious enthusiasm and willingness to lead by example that wins people over.
    • Why does this matter? Implementing ideas requires influence, and that doesn't always come from senior leadership. Research has shown that employees are most influenced by those immediately around them rather than above them. Understanding who those informal leaders are can help you keep your growth targets on track
    • How does Pavooq measure this? We help you analyze particular aspects of your employees' personalities, such as introversion or extraversion (how often do they speak and to how many people?); productivity time (are they night owls or larks, working late night or early mornings?), and reactivity (how quickly do they respond to the requests of others?)

      Knowledge

      • Sometimes, a key employee isn't one who's displaying obvious leadership qualities, but rather a quiet linchpin, central to the business's day-to-day operations. Their specialist knowledge or accreditation keeps things running smoothly, and, like that Jenga piece we mentioned earlier, their removal won't go unnoticed.
      • Why does this matter? Let's say your company is merging with another business. In this scenario, you must know which employees you need (because they have specific skills, certifications, or licenses); which ones will make the transition easier (because they hold influence), and which ones can, ultimately, be replaced. Pinpointing those with the knowledge you require will help you pick up where the old company left off.
      • How does Pavooq measure this? We can divide knowledge into "wide" or "narrow" categories. Those who speak only within their own team or department may be demonstrating narrow knowledge (comfortable in their field of expertise). Meanwhile, those speaking with multiple departments may have wide knowledge, joining together people and projects

        Connections

        • As is often the case in the business world, it's not what you know but who you know — and it's the quality of connection that matters most, not the volume. Key employees can act as go-betweens for team members, link departments, or open the door to lucrative opportunities through their professional network.
        • Why does this matter? When it comes to influencing others, you want to understand who can spread ideas (like buy-in for growth activities) further, not faster. Someone with only two or three solid connections could still be the key influencer you need as they join several departments through contacts of contacts.
        • How does Pavooq measure this? We identify the most-connected people as those who are connected to others with multiple connections. This way, we can presume that the most "connected" may be the most influential in terms of communication. On the flip side, those who don't speak with anyone or are ignored or overlooked may be treated as "outsiders.

          Output

            • A key employee doesn't just meet their targets — they obliterate them, time and again. Their level of output is consistent with the business performing at its best, and without them, results could dip into potentially dangerous territory.
            • Why does this matter? When you're growing a business, you need to safeguard your cash flow. Knowing which employees are producing the goods can help you plan for their absence or reward their performance, keeping them happy and engaged in the process.
            • How does Pavooq measure this? We presume that interconnected teams are usually more productive than their less-connected counterparts. If teams work together across departments, their output can be much higher than those working in silos.

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