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Career ROI

Career ROI: Advice From Senior Leaders


Scott Wilkerson

July/August 2013, eSide Supply Management Vol. 6, No. 4

When assessing your career goals, ask yourself three key questions to determine how well you are performing in your career and whether you are headed in the right direction.

Early in my career, I began monitoring highly successful people and keeping a journal of their behaviors and advice. I've also collected a wealth of feedback on my own performance — what has gone well and what could have gone better (and the latter is a longer list than I'd like). Additionally, I've read business periodicals and literature in the hope of discovering techniques for improving personal and team performance. The information I have compiled over the years can be divided into three questions that those seeking career advancement can ask themselves: Why does this work? What results am I delivering? How do I deliver these results?

These questions can be answered with some thought-provoking "sound bites" that I hope will trigger a deeper personal examination of how well you are doing your job and where your career is headed. Some of the concepts may seem obvious, but, like eating healthy, knowing something and doing something are very different things.

One important point to keep in mind before you assess your career goals is that career development is not about you, it's about the difference you can make for others. You should not pursue a role simply to be promoted to manager/director/vice president, to make more money or to expand your horizons. Instead, the focus should be on your ability to delight the end customer, make a difference in the company, build great teams and impact the lives of others.

Why Should I Do This Work?

Some points to consider as you evaluate your position:

  • When climbing the ladder, make sure your ladder is against the right wall. If you are not passionate about your industry, career or role — then make a change. You are not going to achieve your life goals if your ladder is against the wrong wall.

  • When seeking to make a difference at the office, make a difference in your community. Volunteer at a nonprofit or social services agency. Your participation will benefit the nonprofit, you will see the world differently and you will be more fulfilled. When you are more fulfilled, your performance at the office will improve.

  • Understand and prioritize your "Fs" in the way that makes sense to you: family, faith, friends, fame and fortune.
What Results Am I Delivering?

Following are some thoughts to help you determine whether you are delivering results:

  • Strive to deliver exceptional results. Do what's right for the customer.

  • Be a rainmaker, not a rain forecaster.

  • People either make the news or report on the news: make the news. And when you need to report on the news, use your reporting to shape the future.

  • Play to win, don't play to not lose.

  • Everything is a chess game, not checkers. Think several steps ahead and develop contingencies.

  • Hire people better than you. You are only as good as your weakest person.

  • Seek to understand your flat spots and always be aware of them. Optimize your strengths, and don't let those flat spots derail your performance.

  • Don't ask for the job and promise that you'll deliver results when you get it. Start delivering the results now; the promotion will come.

  • When given an opportunity, take the ball and run with it.

  • Volunteer for projects at the office. Leadership recognizes and appreciates those who step up and take on something outside of their job description. Those who complain about your volunteering are the ones sitting on their hands (and not getting promoted).

  • Nurture current and past relationships. Regularly reconnect with former colleagues and business partners, and develop your professional network.

  • Dress for the job you want to have, not the one you have now.
How Do I Deliver These Results?

When determining how to deliver results, think about these points:

  • Getting results is expected, but getting results in the right way will differentiate you from others.

  • There's a difference between being effective and being right. Know the difference and be effective.

  • At my company, we have a leadership training model that contains a simple image. It's a ladder leaning against the wall with a team member about halfway up the ladder. Another team member is standing next to the ladder, and the training model explains that the team member standing on the ground has three choices: (1) kick the ladder, sabotaging your colleague; (2) stand next to it and simply watch, neither helping nor hurting; or (3) hold the ladder. Are you the type of person who can hold the ladder for others? Most people, most companies, simply watch.

  • Every person is a snowflake: unique, special, different. Genuinely care about others and their motivations. Understand each person's values, aspirations and fears, using this knowledge to help them succeed.

  • Build diverse teams — diversity of gender, backgrounds, experiences and approaches will deliver better results. Don't hire mirror images of yourself.

  • Respect every person at every level. For example, when traveling, respect the coffee barista, airline gate agent, flight attendant, pilot, taxi driver, hotel clerk and hotel housekeeper. Make eye contact and ask them about their day. Don't look away. Truly listen to their response and see what happens.

  • Never back someone into a corner. Give them a way to exit the situation gracefully because when cornered, everyone will fight, even when they know they are wrong.

  • We're all in sales. If you are promoting a concept or a strategy and it's not working, don't blame others. It's probably that the product, the price or the marketing strategy is the problem. Reflect on what problem you are solving for the customer, and then change your product or approach.

  • Reread the business classics every year: Good to Great (Jim Collins); The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey); and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie). And read something new, like Big Ideas to Big Results (Michael Kanazawa and Dr. Robert Miles).

  • Do the right thing. If you don't know what the right thing is, go figure it out.

As I reflect on my career, I am thankful for having worked with wonderful people who have provided exceptional guidance. Nevertheless, I have mixed success in adhering to these concepts. That's why each day I reflect on my flat spots and focus on being a better husband, father, friend, employee and leader. I encourage you to develop your own list, keep it close at hand and update it regularly. Also, feel free to share it with others.

Scott Wilkerson, is director, global strategic sourcing for The Clorox Company in Oakland, California. For more information, send an email to

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