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Want to Move Forward Faster? Embrace Critical Success Factors

For many of us goal-oriented people, the idea of setting a goal (or multiple goals) is dear to us. Goals feel energizing and clear and purposeful. If you don’t have a goal, what are you doing with your life?

First, we know that most people set goals and don’t achieve them. The best proof point for that are New Year’s goals. In fact, about 80% of people fail to stick with their New Year’s Resolutions.

The other risky underside is that failure to achieve goals consistently provides a negative feedback loop and the result is that people just tend to throw in the towel on setting goals in the first place. You see, the very act of just setting a goal, in many ways, sets you up for psychological failure.

The real problem here isn’t setting the goal itself, but the process of setting that goal and the method upon which that goal can and should be executed needs to change. So, let’s change it. Here is my method for setting goals that works.

Step 1: Align Your Goal(s) with Your Intention(s)

It would be a challenge to set a goal of earning $200K/year if your daily intentions around fulfillment, happiness, and health weren’t achieved. Your daily intentions of what makes you matter, what makes you worthy, what makes you you, sets the stage for your goal to be relevant. When your goal maps to your values or your standards of daily living, you are more likely to be successful. If my values are (i) committed, (ii) reliable, (iii) passionate, and (iv) honest and those are the standards I hold to daily, then I need to make sure that the goals I set will accommodate the amplification of my values in a way that gives me energy. If you’re setting goals for a business or a job that sucks your energy and doesn’t align with your core values, then any goal that you set is likely to fail.

Step 2: Realize that Goals are the Result of a Culmination of Intentional and Controllable Actions

Great, so you have set some goals, but it’s not the goal that matters nearly as much as the identification and execution of the actions required to get there. In other words, I might have a goal to climb Mt. Everest, but that’s not actionable. What is actionable, however, are the pieces of the puzzle necessary to make that happen. These include categories like (i) fitness/health; (ii) mountain training; (iii) logistics and set-up; (iv) financing; (v) equipment, and many more. These sub-goals are more controllable, and I can build plans against them. Whether I achieve the successful summit of Mt. Everest will be a function of all the intentional micro-goals I had to achieve in the process. Breaking down a goal into “bite-sized” pieces gives me more “wins” along the way.

Step 3: Place Those Supporting, Controllable Goals into a Visual Framework

Ah, setting that goal is pretty easy but the real work is how to architect the execution of the steps necessary to achieve it. It takes planning and perseverance and thought and discipline and focus. Let’s put the goal into a visual framework.

The model I use is called Critical Success Factors (CSFs). CSFs are the supportable goals that I have more control over in achieving the culminating objective. For example, if my goal is to lose 20 pounds in 3 months, my CSF’s might be (i) Burn xx calories via fitness/week; (ii) Consume 50 grams/day or less of carbohydrates; (iii) Create a support group and enlist 5 others to participate with me; and (iv) Demonstrate gratitude 1x/day. So, I believe that these Critical Success Factors, if executed, will result in losing those 20 pounds. Now, contributing to the Critical Success Factors are SMART Goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific – You know what you are trying to achieve.
  • Measurable – It is clear how you are going to know that the objective is achieved.
  • Reasonable – The objective is reasonable given the scope of your resources and time.
  • Attainable – Based on the reasonableness, you have a good chance of achieving it.
  • Realistic – The goal is realistic, relative to the other things that you have going on in life.
  • Timely – You can complete this within a reasonable period of time.

The diagram below shows how SMART goals roll up to CSFs and how CSFs roll up to the big goal and how that big goal operates in the context of your Values.
SMART Goals
Now, this structure works as well for an individual as it does for a company. As an entrepreneur or a leader of a team of people, the same format applies. The different CSFs and SMART goals have owners in your organization and everyone can see how their actions roll up to the objective that really matters. Everyone becomes part of the goal.

Step 4: Embrace the Experimentation Mentality

But what if my CSFs aren’t the right ones or if my SMART goals miss the mark? First, just the fact that you are embracing this structure will set you apart from 90% of most other people. Second, setting up SMART goals or CSFs that fail happens all the time. Just think of your plans as “experiments.” You had a hypothesis with an intended outcome, you set a plan to achieve it in a SMART way, but the result wasn’t what you had expected… fine, start a new experiment.

Goals are Powerful but Put them in Context!

Goals get a bit of a bad rap because most aren’t achieved, and it only makes us feel bad when we’re unsuccessful. So, stop looking at your goals as this destination for which a wide abyss stands between you and success. You need the building blocks to reach that destination, which includes your underlying intentions as well as a framework to put you in control of the contributing variables that will yield success. So, set your targets and then get to work doing the thinking and documenting of the plan. Then… EXECUTE. You will see results.

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