Want to Reach Your Goals? Embrace Critical Success Factors.

For many of us goal oriented people, we love the idea of setting a goal (or multiple goals), don't we?  Goals feel meaningful and energizing and clear and purposeful.  If you don’t have a goal, what are you doing with your life?  All of us that love goals get it.  But before jumping on the rah! rah! to goals bandwagon, recognize their surprisingly risky underside.

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.  Sure, we may be talking about health-related goals (which people struggle with anyways) but the point is that setting and sticking to objectives is hard.

The other risky underside is that failure to achieve goals consistently provides a negative feedback loop (“I set goals and never hit them!”) and the result is that people just tend to throw in the towel on setting the goals in the first place.  Not achieving goals shouldn't be a surprise.  If a goal is designed to be an aspiration and the result is “black and white” (either I achieve it or I don’t), then it is understandable that you might only achieve that goal 50% of the time (or maybe even less).  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 (The very act of stating an objective is typically required to make progress) 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).

For example, 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.  The road to goal achievement can be long and arduous.  The key is to relish in the journey.  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 (unless that goal is to find a new job or replace an employee or shift your strategy).

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.  This includes categories like (i) fitness/health; (ii) mountain training; (iii) logistics and set-up; (iv) financing; (v) equipment; and many more.  These categories are the makings of sub-goals and are INPUTS to the big objective of climbing Mt. Everest.  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 too which feels great.

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.  This is where people break down.  Why?  Because it’s hard!  It takes planning and perseverance, and thought and discipline and focus.  If you aren’t prepared to do the work, then setting the goal is a recipe for feeling like crap.  Don’t do that.  Let’s put the goal into a visual framework. 

The model I use is called Critical Success Factors (CSF’s).  CSF’s 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 results 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.
  • Reasonable – The objective is reasonable given the scope of your resources and time.
  • Attainable – Based on the reasonableness, you have a good chance of achieve 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 CSF’s and how CSF’s roll up to the big goal and how that big goal operates in the context of your Values. 


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 CSF’s and SMART goals have owners in your organization and what’s awesome is that everyone can see how their actions roll up to the objective that really matters.  Everyone becomes part of the goal.  Powerful!  And Intentional!

Step 4:  Embrace the Experimentation Mentality

But what if my CSF’s 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 CSF’s 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.  The result wasn’t what you had expected.  Fine.  Start a new experiment.  The framework is a living structure that will change as your execution unfolds. 

I generally find that WOG (Wisdom of the Group) can be an effective way to increase the probability that the CSF’s and SMART goals are more right than wrong.  WOG is about opening up your framework to others and seeking input/advice.  The good news is that you actually have a framework for which to do it.  Imagine going to your Board or your boss or your colleagues and engaging them on this framework as a way to work more efficiently and increase the probability for success.  They will be impressed and you will feel in control.

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 (what gives you energy and your values and standards) 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 the results.