Success in today's business world is predicated less on the systems within an organization and more on the people in the organization dedicated to making it happen. It wasn't too long ago when organizations could carry the middling performer as long as the superstars were performing at high levels. With downsizing and globalization, every person must carry his weight, delivering consistently with big success. For some employees, the talent is there, and they can simply dig in a bit and reach that level. For others not so fortunate to possess that level of skill, they need to retool and take six important steps to become more competitive and responsible for delivering success.

Step 1: Know when to start and when to quit

AOL is still trying to sell dial-up Internet services, which is like Ford attempting to convince today's drivers to buy a Model T. AOL services no longer fit the needs of customers, and they are losing customers by the millions. Even worse, they are now getting a reputation for not letting customers terminate service. On the Internet you can hear a recording of one such nightmare transaction — a transaction that has already been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people.

If a customer wants to end a relationship with you, which is of greater concern? The fact you lost this customer? Or the reason you lost this customer? Your concern needs to be focused on why the customer left, because if that problem isn't corrected, there will be a greater customer exodus in short order. Sometimes you need to know when your product or service has been bested, and instead of spending valuable resources trying to convince customers to stay, it may be time to stop your current methods and start a new approach.

Step 2: There is no education like adversity

Hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest natural disasters the United States has ever experienced, and it was one of the nation's most educational experiences. It taught us how unprepared we are for such a catastrophe. Unfortunately, most of our government representatives were more focused on finding someone to blame than on what the experience can teach.

Are you blame-focused or solution-focused when adversity hits your organization? Say someone in your organization dropped the ball, and as a result, a profit “disaster” occurred. Are you going to act like the government did last year and have that employee fall on his own sword so you have someone taking the blame? Or are you going to analyze the situation and track the steps leading up to that error so you can rewrite your protocol, follow-up steps and communication choices? Adversity is our greatest teacher if we stop, learn and actually take action with our newfound knowledge.

Step 3: Your ability to succeed is in proportion to your ability to sell

There are four people with whom you need to be an expert salesperson: the customer, your boss, your coworkers and most importantly — yourself. If you are unable to completely sell yourself on the ideas that your products and services have a positive impact on your customer, that you are capable of doing your job with unlimited success and that you absolutely love what you do, then selling to the other three entities is irrelevant.

I've seen athletic teams lose a game before they even left the locker room because they sold themselves on the idea that they were going to lose. I've seen salespeople purely go through the motions on a call because they sold themselves on the idea that the prospect wasn't buying today.

Why even try? The internal sales talk is the most important sales conversation you will ever have. The greatest successes in business have occurred because the driving force, the person most committed, was totally sold on the idea and refused to lose. That doesn't mean failures didn't happen along the way; it means the setbacks were fuel and knowledge for pushing further. Sales success is not a numbers game; it's a mental game of seeing yourself as a success and believing it. Although it's hard to believe, some people have convinced themselves they couldn't ever reach the top. They are afraid of success and run from it when it happens.

Step 4: Ask and you shall receive

Highly successful people, no matter what role they play in business, are always masters of the question. Managers need to do less telling and more listening. Salespeople need to do less pitching and more listening.

This year, one of my clients made four significant promotions, and one person felt passed over. He was a master of the question. Instead of asking why he didn't get the promotion, he asked: “What areas do I need to improve upon to be ready for the next time an opportunity comes along?” He got information and didn't offer rebuttal. He simply put his head down and acted on that information, and six months later he was given the opportunity he sought.

Success is predicated on asking the right questions and recognizing honest answers when you hear them. If you are going to ask prospects and customers what areas you need to improve upon to be ready for the next opportunity, then you better listen and take notes. If you can recognize the answer, then that is them telling you how to succeed. Learn to master the questions that open up employees, customers and prospects. Listen with the intent to understand, and they will tell you how to succeed and receive.

Step 5: Invest in yourself

Nod if you feel the company should only ask for 45 to 55 hours a week from you. Nod if the company should pay for all of your training and educational materials. Nod if you think your job is more demanding and competitive than ever before. Before you get a crick in your neck from all that nodding, I want you to ask yourself: Is my success more important to me or to the company? I would imagine most people would say it's more important to themselves, so what are you doing to invest time and money in your success? The company is paying for your time, knowledge, benefits, perks and training because your success is important to them, so what are you doing on top of that to go for big success?

Everyone who is significantly successful knows success is an inside job and invests in themselves to get that success. What magazines do you receive at home? Which of them are helping you be better in your occupation? Magazines are incredibly inexpensive, knowledge-filled and abundant. An investment in a couple of subscriptions that deal directly with your job can be an investment with a great return. What books do you read? We have a tendency to get so busy in our lives we fail to read other than for pleasure and escape. Invest in four business books this year and increase your knowledge.

Invest in yourself, whether it be to learn a new language, gain managerial perspectives, or join a group of business leaders for information sharing and networking. The return on your investment will be big.

Step 6: Go big or stay home!

As a foolish 17-year-old, I used to get off my short-order cook job around 2 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Afterward, a group of us would race cars. We raced down a four-lane road with a 1.5-mile downhill straight shot, except for a severe turn about 500 feet from the bottom. Whoever reached the bottom of the hill won. Of course, the turning point of the race was how you handled the brakes going through the sharp turn in attempts to not plow through Mr. Turner's house.

Every week the same guy won, and he later became a race car driver. He'd always tell us the same thing — you have to go big or stay home! The fact that he wasn't afraid of the turn like the rest of us gave him the victory. His boldness and courage won. I've heard it said that in today's business, playing it safe is the riskiest thing you can do, and taking risks is the safest way to achieve success. Being bold and courageous is needed now more than ever to achieve big success.

Begin taking these steps, and you will be stepping toward that success you've been looking for. It's the journey that's the joy. Knowing you can do it is the driving force. The success is just the reward.


The author is president of Russell J. White International Inc., Lake Wylie, S.C., and is known in speaking and consulting circles as “The Big Guy.” He is an author, trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. White can be reached at (877) 275-9468. Visit his Web site at www.thinkBIGguy.com or e-mail him at mail@thinkBIGguy.com.