The Six Characteristics of Successful Employees at Rapidly Growing Companies

Startup and scaleup companies need doers. In the fast-moving, ever-changing space of innovation and disruption, companies rely on action-oriented employees. People who’ll take it upon themselves to identify problems and look for resourceful, creative solutions. People who can be effective with minimal direction, and people who can contribute meaningfully as part of a cohesive and powerful team.

According to new research that we’ve conducted on the characteristics of successful employees at rapidly growing companies, 92% of company executives believe these culture skills to be at least as important as technical ability.

What drives employee success?

Our surveys and interviews with over 200 company executives and hiring managers have uncovered six critical characteristics that are the most highly valued by entrepreneurial leaders, and considered critical to their companies’ growth and profitability.

These characteristics are:

  • Desire to learn
  • Ability to thrive amidst ambiguity
  • Passion
  • Scrappiness & grit
  • Excellence at collaboration
  • Willingness to put the company before oneself

Interestingly, our research also reveals that none of these coveted qualities were considered significant as singular differentiators. Nearly all executives interviewed identified at least three of the six, noting that these qualities had to exist in-tandem. This “success cluster,” as we’ve come to view the characteristics, is largely complementary.

Implications of this research:

The findings provide compelling guides for our team of learning design architects. In keeping with our founders’ mission, we focus on creating immersive learning experiences that replicate fast-paced work environments and help students see how the critical characteristics impact business results.

We offer accelerated learning for technical skills, personal awareness and navigating the waters of team dynamics. Students at Startup Institute participate in a rigorous technical curriculum, led by industry experts and business leaders, to develop their understanding of what it takes to succeed in sales, marketing, web design, and web development roles at innovation companies. They come together for culture skills workshops that ask them to reflect deeply and critically on their own work habits, communication skills, and leadership abilities. At the same time, consultancy projects for our partner companies challenge students to bring these technical and culture skills together-- pushing them to find effective ways to overcome real-world challenges, solve problems collaboratively, and create solutions on cross-functional teams.

Our research will continue to inform how we adapt and optimize learning experiences to the needs of our students and the companies they join, as well as how we design admissions criteria to purposefully select those individuals who demonstrate strength in these six culture skills.

But, the implications of this research extend far beyond our curriculum. For example, how can we help companies to make more strategic hiring decisions, scaffolding for performance around these six? How can we identify the qualities that map to leadership potential, and help individuals to hone this potential? And, how might these individuals take ownership of their own professional growth to target these culture skills? These are very exciting questions and catalysts for conversations within our community.

So, this is for you. Whether you’re an aspiring innovator, or work for a high-growth company, we hope you can benefit from our research-- using it to identify areas for personal and professional growth, or to make smarter hiring decisions.

For a more detailed analysis of the results and their implications, download our report: