Feel like the economy, the marketplace, the competition, and the lack of resources has made it impossible to succeed?

If so, you’re not alone.  Sometimes being an effective leader today seems nearly impossible:

  • The demands on your teams are too many, and the best people are starting to leave.
  • The marketplace isn’t spending enough to justify the investments needed to upgrade.
  • Global events mean that decisions are more likely to be wrong than right.

Seems scary, alright.  But there are still solid opportunities for any leader to succeed if you venture outside your comfort zone.

Back in 2010, just after that particularly dark time for the U.S. auto industry – and with the American economy at an exceptionally low point – I wrote about why the Chrysler Group was going to succeed.

Since then, this company (still more famous for building cars with poor sales appeal and similar levels of quality) has become one of the darlings of both the auto and investment industries.  Noodle on these highlights:

  1. Loans from the US and Canadian governments of $7.6B are now paid off.  Many commentators criticized those governments for making those loans at the time.
  2. It has gained very positive consumer “buzz” with bold advertising featuring the likes of rapper  Eminem, the city of Detroit (which actually considered scraping buildings in the downtown to create industrial farms not long before those ads started), and recently, Clint Eastwood in a controversial two-minute feature piece about turnarounds.
  3. Quality improvements are exceptional. Both consumers and industry pundits are enthusiastic.
  4. New products are being introduced at a rate not seen in decades, greatly benefiting from Italian automaker Fiat who now owns about 60% of the corporation.

Despite all odds, and contrary to what most pundits said just a couple of years ago, the prognosis for Chrysler is that it will not only live but that it will thrive. What that company management did can serve as a valuable lesson for any leader.

Chrysler’s leaders identified and then quickly implemented critical success factors (CSFs) that were necessary for the company’s survival and subsequent success. The concept was conceived by MIT’s Sloan School of Management. They defined CSFs as:

“the limited number of areas in which results, if satisfactory, will ensure successful competitive performance for the organization.  They are the few key areas where things must go right for the business to flourish…”

Here is another definition I like:

CSFs are those few things that must go well to ensure success for a manager or organization.  They represent those areas that must be given special and continuing attention to bring about high performance. CSFs include issues vital to both current activities and the long-term success.

If you experience ongoing hassles while trying to move things forward, get clear about your own critical success factors – for example a CSF for a successful IT project could be user involvement. As a common point of reference, CSFs help everyone on the team to know exactly what is most important. If you are uncertain about your CSFs, ask yourself questions like, “Why would customers choose us?”

Then: Move quickly.


Executive leadership coach