This is an extract from my “Finding your organisation’s critical success factors” toolkit (whitepaper + e-templates)

I have realized recently the importance of distinguishing operational critical success factors from external outcomes. A member of the Board of a charity rightly pointed out that the CSFs tabled (the operational CSFs) were too internally focused.  They wanted to see the external picture: the external outcomes.  The Board was naturally looking from outside-in.  The Board wanted to see the CSFs expressed as the outcomes and impacts they want to see. We want the organisation to “deliver this”, “deliver that” which will demonstrate that there has been a success implementation of the organisation’s strategy.

External outcomes are a result of the operational CSFs working, day in and day out, for a sustained period of time along with the successful implementation of strategic initiatives—e.g., alliance agreements being signed to obtain operational capacity in a new country.   External outcome such as “Developing and growing the new product x (or market y)” is a result of many different activities happening from secret alliance agreements being successfully signed to new operational capacity being organized in a new country.  Once operational, the new plant in a new country will be guided by the operational CSFs already in existence elsewhere in the organisation.

To help further clarify I have separated out the characteristics of operational critical success and external outcomes in the Exhibit 1.

EXHIBIT 1 Characteristics of Operational Critical Success Factors and External Outcomes

Characteristics of operational critical success Characteristics of external outcomes
Are those factors that require a 24/7 focus by all staff in the organisation. Progress is only reported periodically e.g., bimonthly / quarterly focus based around the Board meetings.
Success is a result of operational staff focusing on the CSFs 24/7. Success is the combination of implementing successful strategic initiatives and the new business opportunities being successfully supported by the existing CSFs.
Worded to be pertinent to the activities staff should focus on in a specific area avoiding the use of “empty words” like optimization, maximization. Worded to describe what success will look like for a broad area of the organisation e.g., become an employer of first choice.
Describe an activity. Described as an external result such as “growth in a new market.”
Will not be a surprise to management and the board / government official, as they will have talked about them as success factors. Wording is generic across many sectors.
Are focused on the organisation and thus should not be broken down into department CSFs. Likewise, will be focused on the organisation.
Are few in number; five to eight is sufficient. Likewise, five to eight is a good number.
Have a considerable positive influence on other success factors. Do not impact the CSF and SFs as they are a result of the CSF and SFs working for a sustained period of time.


This is an extract from my “Finding your organisation’s critical success factors” toolkit (whitepaper + e-templates)