Step 3 Name Your Critical Success Factors – The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life


Name Your Critical Success Factors

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”1

—Bobby Unser, Three-Time Indianapolis 500 Winner

You have created an ambitious, glowing vision, but perhaps it seems far off and out of reach. So now what? How do you go from dreaming to doing? The key is to examine the elements that set your vision aglow and to list everything you need to bring it to life. By writing it all down, you are taking a tangible step toward making real progress. This is a very brief but essential step. By accomplishing this simple task, you build positive forward momentum that moves you in the right direction before the glow dims and you go back to doing things the way you’ve always done them.

What You Need to Succeed

You already know where you’re headed. If you were sketching out a map, your destination would be the vision you’ve so carefully created. It is time to get specific about what you need so you can figure out how you will make it happen. So, first things first: you will make a list. This step seems so obvious that many people skip right over it. But pausing for a moment to make sure you’ve documented what you need improves the odds that you will put everything in place to get where you’re going.

You can’t make a suit without taking careful measurements, creating a pattern, and procuring fabric, notions, and a sewing machine. Your list of success factors will also help you assess the distance between where you are and where you’re headed. In turn, that will help you see how far you have to travel and how long it might take to arrive.

Let’s look at Raymond, the would-be concert pianist we met in earlier chapters. What would he need to fulfill that vision? With his ambition to be a musician of worldwide renown, here’s a decent list of what he might need:

• Access to a piano

• A concert-level piano teacher

• Space to practice

• Aptitude for the piano

• Money to pay for the piano, space, and lessons

• Membership with an ensemble to practice with other musicians

• Knowledge of music theory

When Your Vision Seems Impossible to Achieve

Diane is a primary care physician at a highly traditional academic medical center. She came for some coaching as she considered the options for advancing her career while reserving ample time to spend with her two young daughters. As always, we began her planning with her creating an inventory of her strengths, interests, and values, and then she wrote her mission and vision statements. Thinking about how she could fulfill her vision overwhelmed her because she didn’t have any role models who had done what she hoped to pull off for herself. She simply couldn’t picture how to make it happen. Her vision included her cooking with her kids several nights a week and enjoying family dinners that they’d created as a team. Her husband, a busy attorney who shared this desire, was willing to commit to being home for those meals and offered to take on cleanup duty. That part seemed doable.

But Diane wanted to establish herself as a national thought leader in medicine, which, following the traditional career path, would require her to set up a research group, secure grants, and publish scholarly articles in prestigious journals. The problem with that scenario is that it didn’t fit well with her busy primary care practice, to which she was passionately committed, and her active home life. Securing research funding is highly competitive and requires long hours in order to excel. Her ambition to have a soaring career while being an involved parent seemed impossible when held up against the realities of her chosen field.

I reminded Diane that until she fully explored all of her options, it was too early to dismiss her ideal as impractical and settle for something less. She was game to move forward, if not terribly optimistic. So I asked her to continue suspending disbelief for a while longer and just list what she would need to have in place for her to achieve this seemingly unworkable balance. She thought it might be more feasible to pull off this feat if she were able to do some of her work at home, so she came up with this list:

• A home office setup, with computer

• A morning clinical schedule that allowed her to be home after school hours

• Deep expertise in an issue of importance to her medical peers

• A platform to communicate her ideas

• The support of her division chief

• Salary for her nonclinical hours

Just committing her list to paper made it seem less overwhelming. While she still couldn’t see how she would make this happen, she could begin to imagine how she might set some goals to further refine her vision. We’ll meet up with Diane in the next step.

When You Don’t Know Where to Start

If your vision is multifaceted, you may want to break it down into separate sections and make an inventory of success factors for each one. Organize them in whatever way works for you. I find it helpful to use different color markers to highlight the various parts of my vision, such as relationships, work, community, and mind/body/spirit pursuits. However you choose to approach this, make sure to include the joy notes that will make working toward your vision a pleasant journey.

Because my own vision encompasses many disparate yet harmonious activities, I have broken it down into projects and made a list of success factors for each one. For example, writing this book is one aspect of fulfilling both my personal and professional visions. I needed some obvious things:

• A computer

• Time, time, and more time to review and organize mountains of materials

• Welcoming work space

Attractive office with soothing colors

Clean, orderly desk

Inspiring photos

Pots of tea


• Scheduled breaks for exercise and human contact

• Interviews with clients and program participants

This was also an opportunity to get some good “twofers”—activities that serve you in more than one way. Reviewing my vision statement was a great way to see the potential. When I rethought my writing schedule so that I could help my son prepare for his bar mitzvah, I had planned to get back on track by “going underground” to spend some concentrated time writing free from the competing demands of family, consulting projects, and coaching clients. A review of my vision statement reminded me that spending time in nature is critical to nourishing my spirit. Connecting with cherished friends is also central to my well-being, and is a particular challenge given the solitary nature of writing. So, I added to my list of critical success factors:

• Getting “off the grid” for five days

• Time in nature

• Good company for breaks

Just to show you where this is all leading, I’ll jump ahead a couple of steps and demonstrate how this list of success factors led me to a strategy that fulfilled my whole list. I knew from past experience that trying to write for sustained periods from my office was a setup that would lead to distractions and frustration. Blocking off a few hours a day is usually doable, but the time required to get back on schedule meant that wasn’t feasible. So, I decided to rent a cottage on Cape Cod for a few days and invite my sister to join me. The cape is very quiet and beautiful in the autumn and I was able to find a perfect space at off-season rates.

It was a magical time. I had the concentrated periods of quiet time I needed to reimmerse myself in this massive project and I had scheduled breaks for exercise and time in nature when we walked the beaches in the cool breeze. We were delighted by the rare opportunity to spend so much time together and we had the special treat of watching seals playing in the surf. The invigorating walks renewed me for a few more hours of writing. Then we capped off the day with dinner out. We made a point of testing the cosmopolitans in each restaurant we tried, so we accomplished some important research as well. Most important, I made up for lost writing time and returned home with renewed focus, successfully reconnected with this intense project.

Hopefully, it is now clear how listing your success factors will form a basis for creating strategies that are likely to help you achieve your goals. And, as important, to enjoy the process as much as is possible. So remember to add some spice and make your main course as delicious as it can be. Consider these factors as the ingredient list for your recipe for success.


Make Your List

Pull out your vision statement and take a look all the individual aspects that comprise your ideal future. Grab your notebook and simply make a list of those things that need to be in place for you to fully occupy the picture you’ve drawn for yourself. Be as thorough as possible. In the next step, you will take an inventory of those factors that you have in place and those that you will have to acquire. The more detail you can develop here, the better your chances of getting them in place.