Roadmap to Success

December 1, 2009
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There are several things that one can do no matter where they work, the job they hold or the profession they practice to earn a successful career.



In every workplace or position, certain patterns can be found. Some people seem to fit into an organization well, do their work, and usually get ahead with opportunities, raises and promotions. Other people are just there-they do their work, but they never “step up to the plate” with results or volunteer for assignments. These individuals rarely seem to get ahead, and often wonder why the perks don’t come their way. Still others become disgruntled and bitter, simply filling up space and completing the bare minimum.

Obviously, from the perspective of personal success, one needs to be in the first group mentioned. Those in the first group are the ones who get the raises, advancements and other opportunities. Why? Because they are the ones who actually provide significant value to their employers. This phenomenon is true no matter what the job is, from working on the shop floor, to computer programming to working in a fast food restaurant.

Interestingly, through their actions, people actively choose which group they are in. Some people come in the door and look for opportunities to get ahead. Others go in, watch the clock, do their work and get their paycheck. And still, others try to throw sand in the gears.

Following, are several things that one can do no matter where they work, the job they hold or the profession they practice to earn a successful career.



1. Deliver value. Among all the steps or actions, delivering value is number one. An employee must make sure he contributes more than his cost to the organization. People often mislead themselves, assuming they should get to keep their jobs if they are responsible and do good work. Some even think that staying around a long time at one organization makes them worth more to the organization, but that simply is not the case as many manufacturing employees have discovered during the economic downturn.

It is the employee’s contribution that counts-not the hours or years one puts into a job. We have all seen people who stay busy, even work very hard, without adding real value. They make the mistake of thinking effort alone should earn them a paycheck or perks such as raises and promotions. One would be better off thinking in terms of pay-for-performance or for the value added, rather than tenure, good intentions or activity. Prove worth to the organization. Make a difference and add value.



2. Continue with education. There is power in education. People who have a college education do have an initial edge. Having a college degree before entering the workforce provides the “foot in the door” opportunity. However, above all else, organizations look for people who are committed and dedicated to consistently delivering results.

Learn and gain experience from each work assignment. Approach every assignment as if it will be the last. Learn everything there is to know and strive to be considered the best at everything. An employee should make sure that he is the go-to person at his organization. That is powerful.

For an employee without a college degree, there are two courses of action that should be taken. First, work to achieve a degree. Seek advice from management. Select a course of action that will result in achievement of a formal degree and keep management informed through updates and counsel. Being in a degree program demonstrates initiative, dedication and commitment and will impress the organization.

The second action, and maybe more influential, is to seek out alternative means of gaining knowledge. Today’s world takes no pity on the person who gets lazy about learning. Either take personal responsibility for continuing education or end up without the knowledge needed to further the career.

It doesn’t take long for skills and knowledge to become outdated in our rapidly changing world. Technological advances and the flood of information make it hard to keep up with what is going on. College graduates can find even the most technical of skills become outdated in a matter of a few short years. Even craftsman must constantly adapt to new products and techniques. Some careers do not even get a chance to change; they just disappear. One must constantly retool himself and become a perpetual student or risk becoming obsolete.

Lifelong learning is the only way to remain competitive in the job market. Many organizations offer company-sponsored training opportunities. While some may be on work time, others may be on personal time-take advantage of all of those opportunities. Ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual. His career, and his appeal as a suitable job candidate, depends on his relentless drive to update credentials, acquire new skills and stay current with what’s happening in the field.

Read trade-related books and periodicals and attend workshops and seminars even if it requires paying part or all of the expense. Take courses. Become certified by an independent professional society, such as the American Society for Quality. It doesn’t matter whether one works in fast food, in telemarketing, in the auto industry, in education, in farming or in the medical profession. Specialized knowledge is key. Every field or profession is constantly changing.

Forget about “finishing” your education; it should never really end. It is important for a manufacturing professional to make himself a valuable asset by developing a better package of knowledge and skills than the next person.



3. Exhibit positive core values. Personal values are at the very core of our beings. These are the values that we hold closest to our hearts, the values that resonate most completely with our souls.

Think of the core of an apple. It is within the core, in the center where the seeds of its life potential are held. Most companies look for integrity, honesty, respect, loyalty and commitment. Demonstrate positive values and those values will be an ally in a successful career.



4. Volunteer. Volunteer for understudy or apprentice assignments that will broaden experience and knowledge. Don’t hesitate to ask for tough assignments. Volunteering for difficult assignments and delivering positive results is a tremendous way to become recognized by one’s organization.

Promotions usually do not come along frequently, but there is power in lateral assignments. Accept lateral moves that will broaden skills and experience. Many choose not to take assignments without some perks, such as raises, titles or promotions, but do not overlook an opportunity to help out the organization and make you look good at the same time. It will be noticed.



5. Embrace change. One thing about the current and future environment is that there will be change and more rapidly than ever. The rate of change can be staggering and overwhelming, but those who succeed will be those who embrace change. Throughout an individual’s career, he will be faced with new expectations, shifting priorities and different reporting relationships. His role may be vaguely defined and assignments may be altered constantly. There will be more questions than answers. One must learn to eagerly accept and adapt to change.

A rapidly changing world deals ruthlessly with organizations and people that are unwilling or slow to change. For a successful career, one needs to respect the fact that the blur of ambiguity is actually in the best interest of his career. Perpetual change will be crucial if the organization and individuals are to survive.

Take personal responsibility for figuring out the top priorities, then work to make things happen. Don’t wait for others to define the totality of your own job duties in painstaking detail. Quickly seek out the information needed and show initiative in aligning your efforts with the organization’s larger plan. Develop an ability to improvise, be flexible and accept that work life is going to be fuzzy around the edges.



6. Create positive relationships. Build positive relationships with everyone in the workplace, from the highest level of management that one can easily interact with to the person who empties the trash cans. Establish relationships. Be friendly to everyone. Ask how their day is going. Find some common interests and talk about them. The more people with whom the employee develops positive relationships with (both up and down the hierarchy), the more he will be perceived as a team player.



7. Find a role model. In most workplaces, it is easy to identify the top performers. They are the ones that managers defer to and ask for advice. They are the ones who always seem to come through with the things that need to be done. As a result, they have job stability, plenty of options and, likely, a very solid career. Learn from these people and ask them plenty of questions about how they get things done. Watch what they do and emulate their positive characteristics.

The best approach may be to find positive characteristics in others to emulate. It is not likely that one person will have all positive traits or characteristics. A person may be a good problem-solver but a poor project manager. Do not get hung up on finding just the right singular personality.



8. Help others succeed. Nothing can be more positive to the organization than helping others become successful. Find out what others may need to accomplish a task or objective, and help them complete it on time, with positive results. You will find this very powerful. Not only will others come to your aid when you need it, but they will go out of their way to lend a helping hand.

Freely give credit and recognition to others for completing assignments, even when you may have been the catalyst. You cannot give the credit away as it’ll come back to you many times over. If you are free to give credit and recognition, you will be recognized as a team player, which is an important characteristic in today’s workplace.



9. Develop the big picture view. In these times of self-directed teams, empowered employees and boundary-less organizations, an employee’s worth as an individual also will be measured by his work group’s collective results.

Holding oneself personally accountable for outcomes requires thinking broadly and developing the big picture view. Learn to work across departmental boundaries. Avoid turf issues and combine efforts seamlessly with others who, though very different from one another, are contributing to the same end results. If an employee achieves his objectives but the organization falls short, no one wins.



10. Avoid negative people. Every workplace seems to have their share of negative people. Negative attitudes reduce the quality of the work environment by making others react adversely and become negative themselves. If an employee is stuck interacting with a negative person, he should minimize all interaction with that person. When he has to interact with negativity, stick with the facts and get back to one’s own tasks. Get the work done and move on.



11. Find a mentor. Finding a respectable person in the organization who is willing to freely give career advice and counsel can be very helpful. This person may not be in the individual’s direct reporting chain but that may be better still. Mentors can add a favorable advantage to career opportunities.



12. Be persistent. People make a mystery out of the business of succeeding in life, when there is no mystery to it at all. First, decide what you want, develop a plan, take action, monitor results and readjust as needed.

Second, find an extraordinary perseverance-the strength and determination to stay with the job through the barriers of fatigue and through the problems that beset us all. Sometimes success comes to those who hang on after all others have let go.



Success doesn’t necessarily come from being the best; it comes from trying your best. Q



Tech Tips

For a successful career, follow these steps:



1. Deliver value.

2. Continue with education.

3. Exhibit positive core values.

4. Volunteer.

5. Embrace change.

6. Create positive relationships.

7. Find a role model.

8. Help others succeed.

9. Develop the big picture view.

10. Avoid negative people.

11. Find a mentor.

12. Be persistent.

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