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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ... a Culture of Results & Engagement™

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #63

Don't Confuse Excellence with Perfection (and this is NOT just for OCDs!)

One of the fundamental—perhaps better stated as pivotal—roles you have as a supervisor, leader, and/or mentor is to encourage the people you directly influence to perform to the best of their abilities. And this can bring many positives; better quality, increased production and profitability, and higher morale and engagement, to name a few.

But when does striving for excellence become an unhealthy obsession with perfection?

The psychology of perfectionism is rather complex. Generally, the aspirational goals of a perfectionist are good—the pursuit of excellence, the desire to do the best job, the drive to be successful. However, perfectionism is strongly correlated with numerous deleterious professional (work) and personal (family) outcomes, including higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, and anxiety.

In addition—and contrary to the goals and outcomes perfectionists typically have and desire—is the fact that perfectionism can stifle creativity; perfectionists are often unable to, or lack flexibility in, decision making (analysis paralysis); perfectionism can hold someone back from delegating responsibility; perfectionists can also be obsessed with checking/rechecking/redoing work due to a fear of failure and making mistakes. And this is only a partial list!

Perfectionism is driven by two distinct but related sub-domains, excellence-seeking perfectionism and failure-avoiding perfectionism, and either can manifest into unrealistic expectations and obsessive behaviors. Because the VABES (Values | Assumptions | Beliefs | Expectations) that inform an individual's perfectionistic perspective are fairly rooted, I'm not going to suggest that you try to 'change' a person with these proclivities. Instead, my suggestion is to leverage the positive elements while simultaneously (and proactively) using the following HVAs to reduce any undesirable consequences.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

Up to this point I've been referring to perfectionism only at the employee level. But what about us? Yes, I'm referring to YOU and I ... what about OUR tendencies toward perfectionism? Shouldn't those be considered as well? The HVAs listed below are designed to work with any 'perfectionists' on your team ... as well as for the 'perfectionist' in you (and me):

  • The Law of Diminishing Returns: "Putting more fuel in the gas tank doesn't make the car go any faster!" The Law of Diminishing Returns is based on sound economic principles—there comes a time when increasing the quantities of one's input will yield progressively smaller results. This summarizes very nicely the Perfectionist's Dilemma ... in business it's exciting to plan and visualize but waiting until something is perfect prevents it from becoming fully realized. If you don't execute your project or task or assignment, did all of that extra preparation matter? MindShift #1: Adopt a strong bias for action and through small incremental improvements you'll converge on perfection.
  • Start at the Finish Line: Determine, in advance, what the end result should be. Perfectionism can lead to a simple request turning into a major undertaking (project bloat) as the perfectionist approaches the task (your simple request for "a few bullet points" that comes back to you as a 10-page report). Mindshift #2: The obvious solution here is to be very clear with your expectations. A statement such as "We won't have much time in the meeting, so I'm just looking for a single page with a few bullet points that encapsulate where we are on the project." might sound overly directive, but this type of dialogue is necessary for you to create more realistic expectations, and help this employee learn to level-load perfectionistic tendencies. In addition, without your direct input, perfectionists will lean toward doing the task on their own. Because they frequently have difficulty letting go of certain projects, it's imperative that you discuss a more collaborative approach including delegating applicable elements of the project.
  • Determine an Effort Investment Budget: MindShift #3: In advance of any project or task, ask yourself "What would make this project excellent?" instead of "What is needed to make this project perfect?" Use your response to the preferred question to determine the effort "price tag" you'll place on the project or task. Once you've reached your effort allotment, understand that any further effort expended is being "borrowed" from something else that is (likely) needing your attention.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"To accomplish the perfect perfection, a little imperfection helps."

— Dejan Stojanovic —