Critical Success Factors

critical success factorsWe all know that achieving success depends on a number of factors, but which factors are most important to your organization? Most of the time, Critical Success Factors (CSFs) vary from industry to industry. Even within one industry, like furniture design, one company may find ergonomics critical while another finds fashion-forward design to be at the heart of their business. Most of the time, CSF’s will be specific to the objectives you’re trying to reach and your marketplace positioning. A strong CSF will pertain directly the vision and mission of your organization, so make sure your corporate raison d’être is lucid and concise. If you’re trying to determine the CSFs for your business or organization, get back to the heart of your business to help you find the way.

Elements of Success

The vision, mission and core principles of your work are the basis for your differentiation strategy. Your Critical Success Factors will define the success or failure of your project, but not in the quantitative way that a Key Performance Indicator might. The difference between the two is this: a CSF is an action you can take to achieve your desire outcome; a KPI is tracks the effects quantifiably. If the mission of your company depends on speedy delivery of products, delivering on that brand promise determines your Critical Success Factors. It might be developing a more efficient infrastructure to track deliveries. It might be cultivating new relationships with efficient suppliers. It might be implementing specific new strategies to limit human error. All of those options would be viable Critical Success Factors. When you’re writing your company’s CSFs try to keep them as specific to your business as possible. “Effective Advertising” applies to almost any business. “Increase brand awareness by at least 25%” is more measurable, more actionable and more effective. Whenever possible, keep your CSFs written as verbs (use action words) instead of nouns. Instead of “Designer image” try “Target upmarket consumers by using design to differentiate.” To determine which Critical Success Factors are the right ones for your objectives, check it against your organization’s core values, vision and mission statement.

A Brief Retrospective Case Study:

Back in 1980, Bill Gates had a vision for his company: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Ask yourself what it would take to achieve that vision circa the decade of blue eyeshadow and neon hammer pants? Microsoft’s specific objective would have to have been: get a broader population to adopt computing technology. Would Gates have achieved his goal had his software been complicated and difficult? No. We can infer that a user-friendly interface was critical to getting more people to use computers. Another way to limit the resistance of new users would have been to demonstrate the benefits for individuals. Gates created a flexible operating system that could be used for day-to-day accounting, communicating, or writing term papers. Therefore, communicating those consumer benefits would have been a Critical Success Factor. If you’re struggling to define which elements of your business will become Critical Success Factors, pretend you’re doing a retrospective case study too. Imagine you’ve already achieved your vision, then look logical at what it takes to get there.

How Many Critical Success Factors?

The same way your vision needs to be precise and clear, your CSFs should be limited. Having twenty Critical Success Factors shows a lack of focus. Not every component of your business can be the top priority. Distill your most primary objectives and ask yourself “what area of my business is essential to achieve that goal?” Most companies and organizations have five or fewer CSFs. This shows that you know how to prioritize and accurately weight the elements of your success. Once you’ve got your CSFs, it’s critical that you communicate them efficiently and effectively.

Communication: The Key to Effective Leadership

Effective communication is the key to both developing strong CSFs and disseminating those ideas. Be the one who knows how to communicate better than most and opportunities will follow. If you weren’t born with crazy orating mojo, don’t worry. Being a good communicator is a skill that be honed. Here are a few basics:

  • Define your clear objective: Even if all you want is a tidier break room, write down a clear and measurable goal.
  • Create an action plan: Work with your team to come up with sound and actionable ideas for how to achieve your objective as quickly and efficiently as possible. Share information and use brainstorming sessions to make sure everyone’s ideas are taken into account.
  • Know your audience: No matter who you’re talking to, you must ask yourself this question, “what’s in it for them?” Whether it’s your toddler or your boss, understanding where your audience is coming from is the key to getting them onboard with your ideas. You need to understand what objections they have and how to overcome them and incentivize.
  • Keep a written record: when you need someone else’s help to achieve your goal, hold them accountable by writing down what you need and when you need it. Organization is your best bet for heading off conflict down the road.
  • Lead by example: people who command respect act respectfully towards others. People who humiliate and belittle their team end up with a team full of self-doubting automatons. Keep your language inspirational in nature and watch your world follow your lead.
  • Remind stakeholders of the payoffs: keep the objective firmly in sight by reminding your team why you are doing what you are doing. Once a milestone is achieved, write an email to certify the benefits for each individual. Always share the credit for the success.
  • For a more in depth look at good communication, get going on a course like Reaching Yes  or The Power of Persuasion.

Organization: Systems for Success

Having a snazzy CSF document circulating is one thing, but you can’t expect results if your business lacks organization and strategic admin systems. Minimize the occurrence of errors by implementing reliable communication and administrative systems in advance. Identify who holds the authority and responsibility for each area of your business. Be transparent and keep your employees in the loop when new developments take place. Ensure your employees are representing your brand image properly. Successful collaboration depends on quality leadership and organizational systems that help each individual feel a sense of shared ownership in the objective. By the same token, employees can’t succeed when lackluster performance is condoned one day and penalized the next. If you want your CSFs to get your business where it needs to be, you must provide consistency and fairness in your work environment. Never let your standards slip, and stay vigilant in eliminating morale busters like favoritism. If organization isn’t your forte, check out this personal Get Organized Booster.

No matter what kind of business you’re in, there’s tons of content at designed to help you increase profits and do better business. If your business is selling a unique product, check out this fantastic course on how to plan your B2B business. If you want to attract customers via a blog, there’s a course for how to do it right. If yours is an online business looking to make a global splash, discover the techniques and secrets of top online marketers. At the end of the day, the more you put into your business the more you get out of it, so take advantage of every possible edge to get a leg up on your competition. Want to get more out of social media? Check out this Media Marketing course. (Alright, enough already!) This may seem a bit over the top, but honestly with courses, you can excel in any niche. The only thing we can’t help with is cleaning out the break room fridge.

Once you’ve mastered your business, you may want to apply what you’ve learned to your personal life. Who says you can’t apply a competitive market strategy to finding your soul-mate? If you want to be more successful in all walks of life, check out this top-rated Success Booster course or The Yoga of Success to optimize your marketing and money performance. Because it’s great to invest in your business, but only after you invest in yourself.