"What should I do to advance my career, get ahead and/or get to the next level in an organization?"

In my travels, I am asked this question on a rather consistent basis. I hear this from colleagues within Cargill, from associates in professional organizations and even in my personal life.

Initially, this question somewhat surprised me since I never really considered myself an expert on success. I normally look to others for this advice and mentoring. However, after continued embarrassment of not being able to answer this question, I have given this topic considerable thought. I have distilled all of my learnings from others to a few key traits.

THE FOUNDATION
First and foremost, it is critical to have integrity, treat all people with respect and live up to all commitments. These are core fundamentals that develop other people's trust in you. In my opinion, one of the most important books on this subject is Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". I first read this book in 1992, and have reread it several times in the past 15 years. I believe that if a person follows these principles, he or she can create a foundation for success. This is a continued journey of learning and improvement. No one is perfect. After mistakes are made, you must go on and try to improve.

After these crucial foundational steps, I believe it then boils down to three things: ideas, actions and results.

IDEAS
Everyone is looking for new, innovative ideas to solve the multitude of opportunities present in business, organizations and personal life. Everyone has the innate ability to think up ideas that could provide untold opportunities. However, what many believe is that they can't be innovative, creative and visionary. They believe only the gifted can do this. I think that is ridiculous and self-limiting. Having ideas is natural and very possible, but it takes mental exercise to become comfortable with it. The best accelerator of idea generation is education. Continual reading and research on topics of interest are the fertilizers and water that grow innovative ideas. This takes extra effort, passion and time that some people just aren't willing to give.

ACTIONS
Great ideas by themselves do society little good without someone committed to taking action and implementing the idea. This is where more people struggle. The world and our environment reward action. Volunteering to do a task or job, following through and doing it well according to plan are crucial. People who act are rewarded in many ways in the long term. Failing to act typically means missed opportunities and thoughts of "I wish I would have." A vice president of operations once told me that education without application has a negative return on investment. Too often, people who are aware of the right thing to do feel paralyzed to do anything about it. If you have sufficiently educated yourself, but do not take action, someone who has not educated themselves will. I love this quote: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

RESULTS
Good ideas and fast action items without the end results mean nothing. These actions must create positive results that are well seen. It's crucial that you define both the "as is" and the "should be" state. If you don't sufficiently measure the starting point, others will quickly dismiss the improvement. Set aggressive targets and stretch goals and, where possible, boil it down to dollars and cents. Too many reliability professionals want to communicate in technical terms of MTBF, MTTR, inches/second overall vibration, etc., when the real information that will resonate with the leadership is "when we extended the MTBF from 24 months to 60 months on ANSI pumps, it resulted in a savings of $3 million." Speak in terms that the people whose attention you are trying to get understand - that's the language of business: dollars, ROI, ROR, ROGI, RCE, RONA, etc.

CONCLUSION
Your employer, professional organizations and the communities in which you live and work need your ideas, actions and results to prosper. So, please step up and volunteer. Your company, colleagues and community - and you - will benefit substantially.