What Are Your Critical Success Factors?
by Anita Pathik Law

The Critical 20%

"True effectiveness is the ability to create results in such a way that one may duplicate them time and time again." This definition, based on my experience in applying the work of acclaimed author Stephen R. Covey, is both accurate and pragmatic.

Sustained success is not accidental. In fact, the Pareto Rule, more commonly known as the 80/20 Rule, states that approximately 80 percent of our success can be directly attributed to approximately 20 percent of our efforts or activities. Essentially this means that for the average person working a 40-hour week, 80 percent of successful outcomes are attributable to only eight hours of activities.

Given this statistic, which eight hours of your effort and time are specifically and directly contributing to your success? Do you know? Furthermore, if you are not reaching your goals, are you aware of the specific strategies you must implement to reach those goals? What are the actions that, if performed both consistently and superbly well, will lead to your desired results? These constitute your critical success factors.

Identifying Your Critical Success Factors

Let's do a simple exercise. On a piece of paper, write down all of the things that are critical to the success of your business. That list may be extensive--strategic planning, networking, product and people development, defining your target market(s) and the value of your services, marketing and sales, relationships and strategic alliances, referrals, systems and processes, customer service, time management and productivity, brand identity, financing and cash flow, technology, leadership, communication, innovation, and/or problem solving.

After you have completed your list, your next step is to prioritize the items it contains. Each of these "first-tier critical success factors" then leads to what I call "second-tier success factors." For example, what are the critical success factors that contribute to effective sales? Time management? Productivity? Could you then break those second-tier functions down to a third-tier level? Absolutely! Are there some overlaps? Of course!

Now comes the tough question: Are you and your employees investing time and effort in the factors that directly contribute to success? 

Where Do You Stand?

To evaluate how well you are doing, rank your prioritized success factors and then, one by one, assess your performance on a scale of one to ten. This simple exercise will identify areas which require focus, as well as reveal strengths you can leverage.

I recently conducted a poll which revealed that 53 percent of the 260 respondents identified sales and marketing as the number one critical success factor in their business. Despite this consensus, would-be entrepreneurs continue to provide poor service and inadequate follow-through, impacting repeat business and referrals--two factors which drive sales over the long term. In such cases, evaluation of performance (and taking action on that evaluation) is vital.

Foundational Forget-Me-Nots

Regardless of the type of client--from solo entrepreneurs to high-powered Fortune 100 company executives--I have seen some interesting patterns emerge with clients who find themselves dissatisfied with their results. While these "foundational forget-me-nots" (FFMN's) may be considered the "softer" side of business, they ultimately lead to hard results. Four of the top FFMN's are:

  1. Self Awareness: Being oblivious to personal strengths and weaknesses can lead to ineffective focus. Leaders who possess a high degree of self awareness know what they are good at and what they're not. They leverage their strengths and compensate for areas of "weakness" by engaging others who can offset those weaknesses by contributing their unique talents. For example, if writing is not your forte, find someone who can do it for you. I recently reviewed a memo a CEO addressed to his staff. It was so poorly written that recipients focused on the grammatical errors rather than on the intended message. He not only wasted time composing a memo that failed to translate into desired results, he also damaged his credibility as a leader.
  2. Passion: Since passion is connected to one's core belief about the business and the clients served, a lack of passion on the part of a leader will ultimately have a negative impact on the organization. Leaders who pursue their passion experience a high level of self confidence and job satisfaction. Translated into a sense of purpose and direction, applied passions can lead to a well-defined value proposition and ultimately to a fulfilling goldmine in business. Connecting the workforce to their passions and leveraging their talents is just as critical.
  3. Alignment: Once the value proposition is defined, the systems are in place, and the strategies are ready for execution, it is time to align one's resources. The first step is to identify the resources required (time, effort, talent, technology, processes and finances). Aligning those resources in a way that directly feeds the strategic priorities of your company is of paramount importance in sustaining success.
  4. Focus, Execution and Accountability: A reputation for "All talk, no action" is lethal to success. While designing a set of strategies that map out the critical path to desired results is crucial, the execution of those strategies in a deliberate and focused way is ultimately what achieves the dream. Benchmarking, accountability measures, rewards, recognition, and continuous evaluation will assist you in accomplishing your critical objectives. You can't manage what you don't measure. High-performing individuals and cultures continuously measure the progress and impact of their efforts. Systems of accountability, whether for a solo entrepreneur or a 50,000-employee company, are tantamount to performing ongoing audits of relevant and focused activity.

In closing, defining your critical success factors and devoting time, planning and attention to them in a measurable, consistent way is the recipe for success. In the long run, though, lack of persistent focus on awareness, passion, alignment and accountability will render results difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.

Anita Pathik Law is CEO of Dare Dreamers, LLC and co-founder of Self Management Coaching. The second edition of her book, The Power of Our Way: A Path to a Collective Consciousness, was published in January 2006. Her mission is "to move individuals and organizations out of thought and into actionTM." Learn more about Anita in the WABC Coach Directory. Anita can be reached by email at

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