Archive for June, 2010

The art of planning

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

As a student, you may find yourself spending more time planning than doing anything else. A typical day may involve devising a study timetable; thinking that you really ought to ring your parents; emailing friends about where to go for a night out; writing an essay plan; deciding what to do with the rest of your life; going through the TV schedules; and planning to get out of bed.

One useful way to start is to buy a diary. Creative types worried that planning is for squares might like to buy different coloured pens for different activities. But resist the temptation to buy different diaries for different facets of your life. You will waste too much time trying to decide which bit of your life goes where and remembering where you put the right diary to note it down.

Then you need to think about goals.

If you make these too vague, such as wanting to be rich, or too ambitious, such as wanting to be prime minister, you will need to break them down into smaller, more precise goals, such as getting a part-time job or completing a politics assignment. Visualise yourself achieving the goal and then work backwards, visualising each likely step. Think about problems you might face and how to tackle them. Don’t be tempted to give up in favour of the TV schedules.

The next step is to draw up a to-do list. Actually, you may need several. One should focus on long-term goals – a list of things you need to do before you reach No 10, such as joining a political party, delivering leaflets, getting elected. Another could look at what you need to do that term, such as paying the electricity bill, finding out where the library is and cleaning the bathroom.

Then you should make daily to-do lists. Don’t make the list too detailed because the longer it is, the less likely you are to do it, and the more likely you are to feel a failure, and the bigger the chance of descending into despondent chaos.

Do put the most important things at the top, as you will need to tackle those first. And plan to do the bits first that you really don’t want to do.

Any kind of planning demands a similar approach. When it comes to drawing up a study programme, essay plan or night out, the first thing to do is define what you want to achieve, then think about how you are going to get there, then set yourself precise tasks.

For example: goal – attend night out in pub without spending entire termly budget, trashing new Ugg boots, texting your ex. Route – eat beforehand, avoid drinking spirits, decline offers to dance on tables. Precise task – put on pasta water, delete ex’s number from phone.

Keep reminding yourself of your plans. Don’t worry too much if you find yourself veering off course – it is important to be flexible, and your goals may change as your research, or evening, progresses. But do keep track of your achievements. The problem with planning is that it isn’t half as difficult as carrying out what you’ve planned.

by Harriet Swain.

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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Of all the communications skills, listening is arguably the one which makes the biggest difference.

The most brilliant and effective speaker utlimately comes undone if he/she fails to listen properly.

Listening does not come naturally to most people, so we need to work hard at it; to stop ourselves ‘jumping in’ and giving our opinions.

Mostly, people don’t listen – they just take turns to speak – we all tend to be more interested in announcing our own views and experiences than really listening and understanding others.

This is ironinic since we all like to be listened to and understood. Covey says rightly that when we are understood we feel affirmed and validated.

He coined the expression: ‘Seek first to understand, and then to be understood’, which serves as a constant reminder for the need to listen to the other person before you can expect them to listen to you.

Levels of Listening – “Effective Listening”

There are different types of listening. Typically they are presented as levels of listening.

Various people have constructed listening models. Below is an attempt to encompass and extend good current listening theory in an accessible and concise way. Bear in mind that listening is rarely confined merely to words. Sometimes what you are listening to will include other sounds or intonation or verbal/emotional noises. Sometimes listening involves noticing a silence or a pause – nothing – ‘dead air’ as it’s known in broadcasting. You might instead be listening to a musical performance, or an engine noise, or a crowded meeting, for the purpose of understanding and assessing what is actually happening or being said. Also, listening in its fullest sense, as you will see below, ultimately includes many non-verbal and non-audible factors, such as body language, facial expressions, reactions of others, cultural elements, and the reactions of the speaker and the listeners to each other.

In summary first:

  1. passive/not listening – noise in background – ignoring
  2. pretend listening – also called ‘responsive listening’ – using stock nods and smiles and uhum, yes, of course, etc.
  3. biased/projective listening – ’selective listening’ and intentionally disregarding/dismissing the other person’s views
  4. misunderstood listening – unconsciously overlaying your own interpretations and making things fit when they don’t
  5. attentive listening – personally-driven fact gathering and analysis often with manipulation of the other person
  6. active listening – understanding feelings and gathering facts for largely selfish purposes
  7. empathic listening – understanding and checking facts and feelings, usually to listener’s personal agenda
  8. facilitative listening – listening, understanding fully, and helping, with the other person’s needs uppermost

Full version:

levels and types of listening

1 Passive Listening or Not Listening Noise in the background – you are not concentrating on the sounds at all and nothing is registering with you. Ignoring would be another way to describe this type of listening. There is nothing wrong with passive listening if it’s truly not important, but passive listening – which we might more aptly call Not Listening – is obviously daft and can be downright dangerous if the communications are important.
2 Pretend Listening You are not concentrating and will not remember anything because you are actually daydreaming or being distracted by something else even though you will occasionally nod or agree using ’stock’ safe replies. This is a common type of listening that grown-ups do with children. This level of listening is called Responsive Listening in some other models, although Pretend Listening is arguably a more apt term, since the word ‘responsive’ suggests a much higher level of care in the listener, and Pretend Listening reflects that there is an element of deceit on the part of the listener towards the speaker. You will generally know when you are Pretend Listening because the speaker will see that glazed look in your eyes and say firmly something like, “Will you please Listen to me. I’m talking to you!” Especially if the speaker is a small child.
3 Biased Listening or Projective Listening You are listening and taking in a certain amount of information, but because you already have such firm opposing or different views, or a resistance to the speaker, you are not allowing anything that is said or any noises made to influence your attitude and level of knowledge and understanding. You are projecting your position onto the speaker and the words. You would do this typically because you are under pressure or very defensive. You would normally be aware that you are doing this, which is a big difference between the next level and this one. This third level of listening is also called Selective Listening in some other models.
4 Misunderstood Listening You have an interest and perhaps some flexibility in respect of the words spoken and your reactions to them, but because you are not thinking objectively and purely you are putting your own interpretation on what you are hearing – making the words fit what you expect or want them to fit. This is a type of projective listening like level three above, but you will not normally be aware that you are doing it until it is pointed out to you. This is a type of listening that is prone to big risks because if you are not made aware of your failings you will leave the discussion under a very wrong impression of the facts and the feelings of the other person. It’s a deluded form of listening. Arrogant people like politicians and company directors who surround themselves with agreeable accomplices can fall into seriously ingrained habits of Misunderstood Listening.
5 Attentive ‘Data-Only’ Listening You listen only to the content, and fail to receive all the non-verbal sounds and signals, such as tone of voice, facial expression, reaction of speaker to your own listening and reactions. This is fine when the purpose of the communication is merely to gain/convey cold facts and figures, but it is very inadequate for other communications requiring an assessment of feelings and motives, and the circumstances underneath the superficial words or sounds. Attentive Listening is a higher level of listening than Misunderstood Listening because it can gather reliable facts, but it fails to gather and suitably respond to emotions and feelings, and the situation of the other person, which is especially risky if the other person’s position is potentially troublesome. This is a common form of listening among ‘push and persuade’ sales people. Attentive Data-Only Listening is typically driven by a strong personal results motive. It can be highly manipulative and forceful. This type of listening wins battles and loses wars – i.e., it can achieve short-term gains, but tends to wreck chances of building anything constructive and sustainable.
6 Active Listening This is listening to words, intonation, and observing body language and facial expressions, and giving feedback – but critically this type of listening is empty of two-way emotional involvement, or empathy. There is no transmitted sympathy or identification with the other persons feelings and emotional needs. This listening gathers facts and to a limited extent feelings too, but importantly the listener does not incorporate the feelings into reactions. This can be due to the listener being limited by policy or rules, or by personal insecurity, selfishness, or emotional immaturity. Active listening often includes a manipulative motive or tactics, which are certainly not present in the empathic level next and higher, and which is a simple way to differentiate between Active and Empathic listening.
7 Empathic Listening or Empathetic Listening You are listening with full attention to the sounds, and all other relevant signals, including:

  • tone of voice
  • other verbal aspects – e.g., pace, volume, breathlessness, flow, style, emphasis
  • facial expression
  • body language
  • cultural or ethnic or other aspects of the person which would affect the way their communications and signals are affecting you
  • feeling – not contained in a single sense – this requires you to have an overall collective appreciation through all relevant senses (taste is perhaps the only sense not employed here) of how the other person is feeling
  • you able to see and feel the situation from the other person’s position

You are also reacting and giving feedback and checking understanding with the speaker. You will be summarising and probably taking notes and agreeing the notes too if it’s an important discussion. You will be honest in expressing disagreement but at the same time expressing genuine understanding, which hopefully (if your listening empathy is of a decent standard) will keep emotions civilized and emotionally under control even for very difficult discussions. You will be instinctively or consciously bringing elements of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and Transactional Analysis into the exchange. It will also be possible (for one who knows) to interpret the exchange from the perspective of having improved the relationship and mutual awareness in terms of the Johari Window concept.

8 Facilitative Listening This goes beyond even empathic listening because it implies and requires that you are able to extend an especially helpful approach to the other person or people. This element is not necessarily present in empathic listening. Another crucial difference is the capability to interpret the cognisance – self-awareness – of the speaker, and the extent to which you are hearing and observing genuine ‘adult’ sounds and signals (as distinct from emotionally skewed outputs), and to weigh the consequences of the other person’s behaviour even if the other person cannot. In this respect you are acting rather like a protector or guardian, in the event that the other person is not being true to themselves. Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theory comes close to explaining the aspects of mood and ‘game-playing’ which many people exhibit a lot unconsciously, and which can be very difficult notice using only the aims of and skills within empathic listening. This does not mean that you are making decisions or recommendations for the other person – it means you are exercising caution on their behalf, which is vital if you are in a position of responsibility or influence towards them. Facilitative Listening also requires that you have thought and prepared very carefully about what you will ask and how you will respond, even if you pause to think and prepare your responses during the exchange. Many people do not give themselves adequate pause for thought when listening and responding at an empathic level. Facilitative listening contains a strong additional element of being interested in helping the other person see and understand their options and choices. It’s a powerful thing. Facilitative Listening is not generally possible if the circumstances (for example organisational rules and policy, matters of law, emergency, etc) demand a faster resolution and offer little or no leeway for extending help. There is a suggestion of transcendence and self-actualization – as described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory – within the approach to Facilitative Listening. It is devoid of any selfish personal motive, other than to extend help, rather than achieve any sort of normal material gain. The other person’s interests are at the forefront, which cannot truthfully be said of any of the preceding levels of listening. Facilitative Listening is not an age or money-related capability. It is an attitude of mind

©Alan Chapman 2009

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Great Leadership Quotes and Inspirational Quotes.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss…. The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads and the boss drives.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

“The marksman hitteth the target partly by pulling, partly by letting go. The boatsman reacheth the landing partly by pulling, partly by letting go.” (Egyptian proverb)

“No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself.” (William Penn)

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” (President Harry S Truman)

“I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” (Woodrow Wilson)

“What should it profit a man if he would gain the whole world yet lose his soul.” (The Holy Bible, Mark 8:36)

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” (Harvey Mackay)

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to look after them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” (John Steinbeck)

“I keep six honest serving-men, They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.” (Rudyard Kipling, from ‘Just So Stories’, 1902.)

“A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than the giant himself.” (Didacus Stella, circa AD60 – and, as a matter of interest, abridged on the edge of an English £2 coin)

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” (Samuel Johnson 1709-84)

“The most important thing in life is not to capitalise on your successes – any fool can do that. The really important thing is to profit from your mistakes.” (William Bolitho, from ‘Twelve against the Gods’)

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud: Under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody but unbowed . . . . . It matters not how strait the gait, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” (WE Henley, 1849-1903, from ‘Invictus’)

“Everybody can get angry – that’s easy. But getting angry at the right person, with the right intensity, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way – that’s hard.” (Aristotle)

“Management means helping people to get the best out of themselves, not organising things.” (Lauren Appley)

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt.)

“Behind an able man there are always other able men.” (Chinese Proverb.)

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” (Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.)

“Experto Credite.” (“Trust one who has proved it.” Virgil, 2,000 years ago.)

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The art of giving presentations

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Giving a presentation is all about sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm – unless you don’t know much and don’t care. Then it is all about looking as if you do. So the first thing you need to think about in a presentation is presentation. Bear in mind that your audience will decide whether or not you know what you’re talking about within the first few seconds (less if they’ve been in your seminar group all term). You therefore need to adopt an air of authority. Wear something in which you feel confident yet comfortable, smile, think about what you are going to do with your hands, and don’t drink so much pre-performance caffeine that you can’t coordinate taking notes out of a ring binder.

It would be even better if you could dispense with the notes altogether. And don’t, whatever you do, try to read them out. There’s no surer way to bore your audience. If you feel safer with a prompt, jot down a few sentences on cards, and put the cards in a trouser pocket. Make sure they’re in the right order – and make sure you’re wearing the right trousers.

It is a good idea to start by finding out what topic you are supposed to address, how much time you have, and who will be listening. Knowing your audience is the key to keeping them happy.

Sometimes this means giving them a few laughs, but be careful. Although you may have had half of them in hysterics with your risque jokes on open mic night, they may not respond in the same way in a seminar room. Don’t over-rehearse and remember that laughing at your own jokes doesn’t prove that you’re funny.

Do maintain eye contact with your audience; it keeps them involved and allows you to check whether or not they’ve dropped off to sleep. This is not the same as gazing obsessively at the blonde in the front row.

If you plan to use computer or audiovisual equipment, read the instruction manual more than 10 minutes before your presentation is due to begin, and check that the equipment is actually there. Resist getting over-excited at the PowerPoint graphics available, and don’t try to put too many words on a single slide, or too many slides in a single talk. Use large type, simple colours and lower-case letters, otherwise it looks as though you’re shouting. Double-check your spelling and use of apostrophes, and don’t block the audience’s view – unless you’ve spotted a spelling howler.

Above all, rehearse your presentation as much as possible, ideally in front of a friend who won’t giggle.

When it comes to questions, it is much better to say that you don’t know the answer than to waffle. This is less true if you don’t know the answer to any of them.

by Harrit Swain.

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‘Keys’ to say it right

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

IN PREVIOUS columns, some of the 4S Keys for improving personal pronunciation have been considered. This week, we will focus on Keys that assist primarily with the pronunciation of “long-vowel” words.

In English, there are thousands of words ending in the vowel ‘e’. It is rare for the final ‘e’ in a word to be pronounced.

Usually, when a word ends in the vowel ‘e’, it is silent but the preceding vowel is long, that is, it says its own name, e.g. bake, scene, ride, note, cute.

A 4S Key To Understanding Pronunciation teaches: The final silent ‘e’ lets the other vowel do the talking.

There are only a handful of common words that say the final ‘e’, such as apostrophe, catastrophe, recipe, posse, and coyote, as well as single-syllable words such as the, and me. This also applies to the names of people such as Marie.

Closely linked Keys

There are other linked 4S Keys that relate to “long” sounding vowels.

One refers to syllables ending in a vowel, e.g. mo/tel, Pe/ter, du/gong, ti/ger, and ta/ble.

Open syllables usually end in a long vowel. In contrast, closed syllables end in a consonant.

The main exceptions to the Open Syllable Key are words that end in the vowel ‘e’, where the final ‘e’ is silent, e.g. take.

Another 4S Key teaches about “stand-alone” vowels, that is, syllables that are made from just one vowel, such as a/gent, e/ven, i/tem, etc.

Stand-alone vowels are usually long. Common exceptions are words beginning with the letter ‘a’, such as a/bout, a/gain, a/do, a/mount, which make the “uh” sound heard in comma and panda.

Another 4S vowel rule that is useful for both pronunciation and spelling is: Long vowels are usually followed by single consonants.

If a vowel is long, i.e. if it says its own name, the consonant following it usually stays single. For example, e/lect, i/dle, o/bey, a/gent, u/topia, ba/ker, mi/ner.

Compare tiger with trigger, and diner with dinner.

The exceptions to this rule are found in ‘l’ words such as roll and stroller. Although the “o” in these words is long, double consonants follow.

The letter “l”

‘L’ is one of the five Influential Consonants, i.e. w, r, l, q, and v.

A 4S Key teaches: ‘l’ can rebel! This means that the letter ‘l’ can break the normal rules in English.

We have already seen this with one of the rules which states that double consonants usually split. The exceptions are stall/ion and mill/ion.

Another rule is that closed syllables end in consonants, and the vowel is usually “short”, e.g. kid, back.

But when “l” is present, the vowel is pronounced as a long one, as in child, wild, bold, and cold.

Another long vowel key is linked to one already encountered about words with two vowels together, i.e. when two vowels go out walking, the first one usually does the talking.

This new 4S Key teaches about words that contain the double ‘e’.

Double ‘e’ is pronounced as a long vowel, as in tree, knee, screen, between, etc.

But as always, there are exceptions.

When a double ‘e’ word is followed by the letter ‘r’ (which is an Influential Consonant), the “ee…” sound becomes the short “i” sound heard in bit and slit.

Exceptions are those double ‘e’ words that are followed by ‘r’, such as deer, beer, sneer, etc.

In these words, the Influential Consonant ‘r’ plays a role and the “ee…” sound becomes the short “i” sound heard in bit and slit.

Remember, the consonant ‘r’ usually changes the sound of the vowels that come before it.

Groups of vowels

In English, the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’, and ‘u’ have a special link, just as ‘e’, ‘i’ and ‘y’ have. Think of these vowels as two different groups.

This relationship is seen when pronouncing words and syllables that begin with the consonants ‘c’ and ‘g’.

There are two pronunciation rules that highlight this linkage. The first relates to ‘c’.

Consider this sentence: Can you count the cups?

When ‘c’ is followed immediately by ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, it usually makes its hard “k…” sound, such as came – cost – cuddle.

When ‘c’ is followed by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’, it makes its soft “s…” sound, e.g. cement – city – cycle.

The rare exceptions are cuisine and cello, when the ‘c’ says “q..” and “ch..” respectively.

The second linked Key refers to the consonant ‘g’ and teaches: Gary’s got a gun.

When ‘g’ is followed immediately by ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, it usually makes its hard “g…” sound, e.g. garden – golf – gutter.

When ‘g’ is followed by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’, it usually makes a soft “j…” sound, e.g. gentle – giraffe – gymnasium.

Some common exceptions to the ‘e’ and ‘i’ rule are get and geyser, as well as the ‘r’ words: girl, gift, gills, girth, girdle, etc.

Remember, ‘r’ usually changes the sound of the vowels that come before it.

Knowing the 4S Keys To Understanding Pronunciation will improve one’s ability to pronounce words correctly.

There are exceptions to be remembered because words either have been borrowed from other languages or because of the presence of one or more of the Influential Consonants.

When a learner has mastered the Key that relates to a particular word, dozens of other related words can also be pronounced correctly and with confidence.

by Keith Wright,  the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

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Entry to public unis

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

FORTY-three out of 44 orang asli students were offered undergraduate places in public universities for the 2010/2011 academic session beginning next month.

This follows Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin’s announcement on Tuesday that orang asli students would be guaranteed places in public universities as long as they meet the minimum qualifying requirements.

The single student who failed to obtain a spot was disqualified because he failed his Mathematics paper.

Higher Education director-general Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said that orang asli students who did not qualify for an undergraduate programme are encouraged to apply for a diploma course suitable for their qualifications.

He said: “In line with the Government’s policy to realise Malaysia’s National Key Result Areas (NKRA) — that is, increasing access and equity in higher education — the ministry is very aware and committed towards socially disadvantaged groups like the orang asli, the physically disabled (better known by their Malay acronym, OKU), and bumiputras from Sabah and Sarawak.”

He added that in order to strengthen sports in public universities, the ministry has also coordinated university entries so that state and national athletes are given the opportunity to practise their sports at the appropriate IPTA (the Malay acronym for public higher learning institutions) Sports Excellence Centre.

“This is the Government’s effort to produce holistic graduates who are capable of realising the national vision and agenda,” he said.

by Tan Shiow Chin.

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Give deaf children a start in language

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I WISH to draw attention to the slow progress in the implementation of effective treatment for deaf children despite a solution being available for several years.

There is evidence that an audio-visual method of teaching spoken language skills to deaf children (cued speech), starting at a very early age, can give these children vastly superior language skills compared to those treated using traditional methods (signed language). Yet cued speech is only accessible to less than 1% of deaf children in Malaysia.

Deaf children are usually normal in every way, and even totally deaf children can now be helped at home by their parents to pick up effective use of words in Bahasa Malaysia just as easily and naturally as children who have normal hearing. This has been demonstrated unequivocally for many years at Pusat Pertuturan Kiu (PPK) or the Cued Speech Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Young deaf children will pick up any spoken language if they are able to see each spoken word as clearly as other children can hear it. What’s needed is an audio-visual form of speech that allows every spoken syllable (and therefore every word) to be accurately lip-read. Such an audio-visual form of spoken BM is now available as “Pertuturan Kiu Bahasa Malaysia” (PKBM).

Children treated at PPK become fluently bilingual in BM and English by the age of 12 years, and are then well-equipped to enter secondary school. Success in achieving this will prevent deaf children from becoming illiterate deaf-mutes as adults, and enable them to have a normal quality of life.

Full implementation of this unique early language intervention programme for deaf children will establish Malaysia as the first country in the world in which members of the deaf community are bilingual.

by Tan Chin Guan, Petaling Jaya.

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Critical Success Factors

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Identifying the things that really matter for success.

So many important matters can compete for your attention in business that it’s often difficult to see the “wood for the trees”. What’s more, it can be extremely difficult to get everyone in the team pulling in the same direction and focusing on the true essentials.

That’s where Critical Success Factors (CSFs) can help. CSFs are the essential areas of activity that must be performed well if you are to achieve the mission, objectives or goals for your business or project.

By identifying your Critical Success Factors, you can create a common point of reference to help you direct and measure the success of your business or project.

As a common point of reference, CSFs help everyone in the team to know exactly what’s most important. And this helps people perform their own work in the right context and so pull together towards the same overall aims.

The idea of CSFs was first presented by D. Ronald Daniel in the 1960s. It was then built on and popularized a decade later by John F. Rockart, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and has since been used extensively to help businesses implement their strategies and projects.

Inevitably, the CSF concept has evolved, and you may have seen it implemented in different ways. This article provides a simple definition and approach based on Rockart’s original ideas.

Rockart defined CSFs as:
“The limited number of areas in which results, if they are 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. If results in these areas are not adequate, the organization’s efforts for the period will be less than desired.”

He also concluded that CSFs are “areas of activity that should receive constant and careful attention from management.

Critical Success Factors are strongly related to the mission and strategic goals of your business or project. Whereas the mission and goals focus on the aims and what is to be achieved, Critical Success Factors focus on the most important areas and get to the very heart of both what is to be achieved and how you will achieve it.

CSFs are best understood by example. Consider a produce store “Farm Fresh Produce”, whose mission is:

“To become the number one produce store in Main Street by selling the highest quality, freshest farm produce, from farm to customer in under 24 hours on 75% of our range and with 98% customer satisfaction.”

(For more on this example, and how to develop your mission statement, see our article on Vision Statements and Mission Statements.)

The strategic objectives of Farm Fresh are to:

  • Gain market share locally of 25%.
  • Achieve fresh supplies of “farm to customer” in 24 hours for 75% of products.
  • Sustain a customer satisfaction rate of 98%.
  • Expand product range to attract more customers.
  • Have sufficient store space to accommodate the range of products that customers want.

In order to identify possible CSFs, we must examine the mission and objectives and see which areas of the business need attention so that they can be achieved. We can start by brainstorming what the Critical Success Factors might be (these are the “Candidate” CSFs.)

Objective Candidate Critical Success Factors
Gain market share locally of 25% Increase competitiveness versus other local stores
Attract new customers
Achieve fresh supplies from “farm to customer” in 24 hours for 75% of products Sustain successful relationships with local suppliers
Sustain a customer satisfaction rate of 98% Retain staff and keep up customer-focused training
Expand product range to attract more customers Source new products locally
Extend store space to accommodate new products and customers Secure financing for expansion
Manage building work and any disruption to the business

Once you have a list of Candidate CSFs, it’s time to consider what is absolutely essential and so identify the truly Critical Success Factors.

And this is certainly the case for Farm Fresh Produce. One CSF that we identify from the candidate list is “Sustain successful relationships with local suppliers.” This is absolutely essential to ensure freshness and to source new products.

Another CSF is to attract new customers. Without new customers, the store will be unable to expand to increase market share.

A third CSF is financing for expansion. The store’s objectives cannot be met without the funds to invest in expanding the store space.

Summary steps:

In reality, identifying your CSFs is a very iterative process. Your mission, strategic goals and CSFs are intrinsically linked and each will be refined as you develop them.

Here are the summary steps that, used iteratively, will help you identify the CSFs for your business or project:

Step One: Establish your business’s or project’s mission and strategic goals (click here for help doing this.)

Step Two: For each strategic goal, ask yourself “what area of business or project activity is essential to achieve this goal?” The answers to the question are your candidate CSFs.

Step Three: Evaluate the list of candidate CSFs to find the absolute essential elements for achieving success – these are your Criticial Success Factors.

As you identify and evaluate candidate CSFs, you may uncover some new strategic objectives or more detailed objectives. So you may need to define your mission, objectives and CSFs iteratively.

Step Four: Identify how you will monitor and measure each of the CSFs.

Step Five: Communicate your CSFs along with the other important elements of your business or project’s strategy.

Step Six: Keep monitoring and reevaluating your CSFs to ensure you keep moving towards your aims. Indeed, whilst CSFs are sometimes less tangible than measurable goals, it is useful to identify as specifically as possible how you can measure or monitor each one.

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Filter out truly gifted scholars

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Time and again, the nation gets into a debate about the allocation of scholarships. As a taxpayer, I believe it is time I weigh in with my opinion.

My beloved late father was a clerk in the postal service all his life and although his income was not much, he managed to support me and my four siblings in our studies. We did not depend on any scholarship.

Not getting a scholarship does not mean your dreams are dead. It just means you have to work harder and make more sacrifices. And it does not matter if you study in a foreign or a local university because the accumulation and application of knowledge still depends on you. After 20 years since graduating from university, I am still picking up new knowledge and skills.

A scholarship is a privilege and not a right. I am puzzled why our examination system cannot filter out the truly academically gifted. During my time, you could count the number of students getting straight A’s in the STPM with two hands.

Today, they are numerous. Why can’t we make it harder to obtain an A or A+? For example, set 10% of questions in such a way that they can only be answered correctly if the student is really gifted or advanced.

Keep making the questions harder until only 100 or so students in the whole of Malaysia can answer them. Apart from academic ability, we should also take into account extracurricular activities and household income.

Please use exams and scholarships as effective tools to promote great academics and not mediocre ones by constantly raising the bar.

Apart from scholarships, the Government should offer a more effective and sustainable study loan programme. Study loans have been around for a long time. It is just that students very often don’t pay the loans back.

In some countries, students receiving loans are immediately given a tax file number. The students pay back the loan after they have obtained a job.

The amount paid back is dependent on their income level which is easily tracked when they file their income tax. The repayment can be adjusted so that it does not burden the graduate.

Another idea is to extend loans via banks. The Government could pay the bank a fee for extending and collecting back study loans. Let’s face it, banks are more effective at recovering loans than government agencies.

The Government must have the political will to do what is right for the future of this country.

by Gatacca, Penang.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Dr Stephen Covey is a hugely influential management guru, whose book The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, became a blueprint for personal development when it was published in 1990. The Seven Habits are said by some to be easy to understand but not as easy to apply. Don’t let the challenge daunt you: The ‘Seven Habits’ are a remarkable set of inspirational and aspirational standards for anyone who seeks to live a full, purposeful and good life, and are applicable today more than ever, as the business world becomes more attuned to humanist concepts. Covey’s values are full of integrity and humanity, and contrast strongly with the process-based ideologies that characterised management thinking in earlier times.

Stephen Covey, as well as being a renowned writer, speaker, academic and humanist, has also built a huge training and consultancy products and services business – Franklin Covey which has a global reach, and has at one time or another consulted with and provided training services to most of the world’s leading corporations.

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Habit 1 – Be Proactive:

This is the ability to control one’s environment, rather than have it control you, as is so often the case. Self determination, choice, and the power to decide response to stimulus, conditions and circumstances

Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind:

Covey calls this the habit of personal leadership – leading oneself that is, towards what you consider your aims. By developing the habit of concentrating on relevant activities you will build a platform to avoid distractions and become more productive and successful.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First.

Covey calls this the habit of personal management. This is about organising and implementing activities in line with the aims established in habit 2. Covey says that habit 2 is the first, or mental creation; habit 3 is the second, or physical creation.

Habit 4 – Think Win – Win:

Covey calls this the habit of interpersonal leadership, necessary because achievements are largely dependent on co-operative efforts with others. He says that win-win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone, and that success follows a co-operative approach more naturally than the confrontation of win-or-lose.

Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand and then to be Understood:

One of the great maxims of the modern age. This is Covey’s habit of communication, and it’s extremely powerful. Covey helps to explain this in his simple analogy ‘diagnose before you prescribe’. Simple and effective, and essential for developing and maintaining positive relationships in all aspects of life.

Habit 6 – Synergize:

Covey says this is the habit of creative co-operation – the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which implicitly lays down the challenge to see the good and potential in the other person’s contribution.

Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw:

This is the habit of self renewal, says Covey, and it necessarily surrounds all the other habits, enabling and encouraging them to happen and grow. Covey interprets the self into four parts: the spiritual, mental, physical and the social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing.

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits are a simple set of rules for life – inter-related and synergistic, and yet each one powerful and worthy of adopting and following in its own right. For many people, reading Covey’s work, or listening to him speak, literally changes their lives. This is powerful stuff indeed and highly recommended.

This 7 Habits summary is just a brief overview – the full work is fascinating, comprehensive, and thoroughly uplifting. Read the book, or listen to the full tape series if you can get hold of it.

In his more recent book ‘The 8th Habit‘, Stephen Covey introduced (logically) an the eighth habit, which deals with personal fulfilment and helping others to achieve fulfilment too. The book also focuses on leadership. Time will tell whether the The 8th Habit achieves recognition and reputation close to Covey’s classic original 7 Habits work.


© original principles and trade marks where indicated Stephen Covey 1990; review alan chapman 1999-2010.

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