Critical Success Factors – A Surprising Finding
Lots of people write about critical success factors. You know, getting things
done, the right things, that determine success. I slightly cringe using
the term, because it’s so over-used, but I want to share a couple of things with
you about being successful that may surprise you.
First impressions are misleading: First of all, success or the lack of it,
is often a very lagging indicator. E.g. someone may be very effective,
and successful at what they do, but acknowledgement, fame or fortune
may be trailing them in the distance, so you wouldn’t notice it up front.
The converse is also true. We work with a number of people who have high
level positions, long careers, but I wouldn’t rate them as very effective
or successful people. Bottom line, you have to look beyond “successful”
people to find what the critical factors are for success.
If first impressions are misleading, recurring impressions are a pretty
good bet, and I’ve found 9 factors or enduring patterns of behavior that
characterize people and organizations that are effective at what they do.
Those nine factors range from use of systems, to using defined outcomes
in action and speech, to keeping clear and current about current status
updates and priorities. I’ve made up a graphic scorecard you can use to
rate yourself or your organization on these 9 patterns. You can download
it at http://www.managepro.com/successfactors.xls
Here’s the real curve ball. Most of us have all been saturated with
the quasi-myth that success is related to setting positive goals,
positive imagery and visualization, etc. It’s sort of true, but not nearly
as highly correlated as one might think.
The truth is that most of us are not only relatively risk-adverse, but
we tend to gear up for change, and yes success is a change for most
of us… when we focus on the negative, not the positive.
Whether you look at:
1. the classic comment from the movie, Network,
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore”, or
2. the behavioral research by Daniel Kahneman, or
3. the pop-psychology imbued in diet theory, e.g. you “will be most
successful if you’re thinking about the negative aspects
of failing your goal rather than the positive…”
the surprising truth is that avoiding negatives is a bigger
driver for helping you be successful than positive incentives.
So use the negatives in your life, they have wonderful motivational
There’s a number of surprising lessons to be learned about being
successful at work, and at life. Apart from learning that the
people who have currently “made it” can often not be modeling
what it takes to be successful, and yes there are some practices
that will help you be more successful… but the biggest sleeper is
how much more powerful negatives are than positives to motivate
you to success.