What is the purpose of your business? What do you need to do absolutely correctly in order for you business to succeed? What are the activities that you absolutely cannot screw up without losing significant amounts of business?
These questions are answered by examining your Critical Success Factors or CSF’s. Critical Success Factors are defined as those activities that a business undertakes that allow it to succeed.
It’s more than just the numbers on your financial statements. Some CSF’s relate to measures of quality, customer satisfaction, and how efficiently you are using your resources.
However, before you can do any analysis on your company’s Critical Success Factors, you need to examine your business strategy.
Ask yourself the following questions: Why is my business better than my competitors’? What do my customers tell me that they like about my business? What don’t they like? What action could I take that would make my customers go elsewhere?
Note that two of the four questions relate to your customers’ perception of your company, not your impressions on what they think. It’s an important distinction as your customers may have a very different view on you and your business than you think. How do you know what your customers think? Ask them! Set up a procedure where they are asked to fill out a feedback form when they purchase your product or service. Ask them what they like and don’t like. Ask why they might choose to shop elsewhere. Ask what you are doing well and what you could be doing better. You may be surprised by the results.
The answers to the four questions above give you a list of those activities that you need to make sure your business is doing regularly and consistently. Review your list. You will most likely find that the items on it relate more to your customers’ perceived value in your product or service, not just its cost. Companies that compete only on cost will always suffer in the long run as there will always be someone else that can do it cheaper.
Now that you have defined your Critical Success Factors, you need to be able to make sure you are on track. But how to measure them, especially when some are non-financial?
The measurements of Critical Success Factors are called Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s. To recap the jargon, Critical Success Factors are things your company must do to thrive, and Key Performance Indicators are the measures of those things.
Here is a typical list of Critical Success Factors:
Personal service-making sure the customer gets to speak with a staff member when the purchase is made.
Product quality-making sure the product does what you say it will do and is durable.
Quick problem resolution-making sure all customer complaints are handled quickly and in a manner that impresses the customer.
Same-day shipping-making sure that your product gets shipped out to your customer the day the order is received.
All four of these CSF’s can be measured, even though some of them are non-financial.
Those are some of the ways that non-financial indicators can be measured and tracked. Once the measures have been determined, it’s important to set your expectations to measure against. For example, if your target is to ship 100% of your products same-day, then you would gauge the actual against the standard (100%).
What would happen if your Key Performance Indicators start to slide?
Let’s say you’ve been tracking your key performance indicators for months and this month, several of the indicators seem to show problems. What do you do?
When this happens (as it inevitably will), you need to discover the source of the problem. A business could face many problems that would impact its key performance indicators including employee illness, cash flow crunch, breakdown in processes, and inattentiveness to customer needs. If the problem is short term, such as employee illness, there is no need to take drastic action. However, you will want to see if there is a way to make your operations less vulnerable to the illness of a single employee.
If the problem seems to be in the underlying processes, it’s time to put new procedures in place to make sure the critical success factor is being met. Have there been changes in the external business environment? New competitors in the industry? Quality control problems with the inventory? These are all situations that need a rethinking and reformulation of your business plan. If you can see the icebergs, you will have a much better chance of being able to steer around them.
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