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Why Striving For Perfection May Hurt Your Business More Than It Helps

9 January, 2020

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So, being a perfectionist is a great thing, right? Well … not exactly. In reality, being a perfectionist can hurt your business as much as it helps. Winston Churchill did a great job of summing up the problem when he said, “perfection is the enemy of progress.”  I want to share three common ways that being a perfectionist and pursuing perfection may be hurting the progress in your business and what you can do instead to help move your business forward:
1. Perfection can slow implementation or stop it altogether.
The Problem: Many perfectionist owners that I know want everything to be perfect before they implement important projects such as launching new customer service initiatives, putting a new procedure into effect, kicking off a new training program, etc. But waiting for everything to be perfect can significantly slow down the speed of implementation, and sometimes the thought of getting every I dotted, and t crossed can be so intimidating that it actually stops some projects from ever getting started in the first place! That’s hardly a recipe for progress! 
Try this instead: There’s a technique from the corporate world called “fast prototyping” that’s the antidote to the perfection problem. With fast prototyping, you rapidly develop your new ideas iteratively starting with a rough, very imperfect, “back of the envelope” concept. You then gather quick feedback, revise the concept, gather more feedback, revise, repeat.
Mark Twain once said, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection,” and that’s what fast prototyping is all about. Fast prototyping will enable you to quickly develop your ideas to the point where they are not perfect, but good enough to implement. Once implemented, you focus on continuous improvement by gathering additional feedback and revising.
2. Wanting perfection can hurt your employees’ development.
The Problem: I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard owners say “I’m a perfectionist and I’m frustrated because my employees can’t perform up to my high standards!” You’ve never said (or thought) anything like that, have you? No, not you!
While it’s good to have high standards, your perfectionist tendencies can hurt your business in two important ways:
First, you may let potentially good employees go (or they may quit) because they didn’t achieve your high, perfectionist standards fast enough. I have a relatively new client, for example, who has burned through four operations managers over the past few years. When I asked his team what role the owner played in these operations managers’ “failing,” the answer was clear: He sets unrealistically high expectations of new ops managers from day one, then when they don’t perform to his expectations he loses confidence in them and eventually lets them go.
Second, expecting perfection hurts your effectiveness as an owner. Being a perfectionist makes it hard for you to let go of micromanaging and give your teams the independence to do their jobs. As a result, you end up doing their work, solving their problems and making decisions that they’re supposed to make, so you don’t get your own work done. Because you’re doing their work, you’re not making them better; you’re making them more dependent on you!
Try this instead: Focus on your employees’ progress and positives –  not just problems and perfection. Give them the time and support to develop and be great. It can take several months for field employees to reach a high-performance level and up to a year for your managers. One of my clients, for example, created a 90-day orientation and training program for his field employees that included weekly feedback, ongoing coaching and training, and formal reviews at 30, 60 and 90 days. The result was that his field employees’ performance and retention increased dramatically.
The same extended development process will work for your managers. I’ve seen remarkable progress over six to 12 months in developing shaky managers who were at risk of being fired into independent, solid performers by consistently giving them training, coaching feedback and accountability. As these managers improved, the owners gradually let go of doing their managers’ work, which gave the owners more time to get their work done. And everyone lived happily ever after!
The key: Ditch perfectionism and focus on consistent employee development and progress instead.
3. Being a perfectionist can make you a less effective leader. 
The Problem: Many owners believe that they need to show up as bulletproof, fully in control and having answers to every problem in order to be an effective leader.
The problem is that trying to show up as perfect makes you less approachable and it makes your employees scared to tell you that they’re struggling and need help – that they’re drowning in work and can’t keep up, that they’re dealing with a problem that they don’t know how to handle or that they just don’t feel well trained in some aspect of their job.
It’s all about self-protection. They’re afraid that their job might be at risk if they don’t live up to your perfectionist expectations, so they hide their problems and try to appear bulletproof like you, which hurts your business rather than helping it. This problem often gets worse as you move up your org chart.
Try this instead: Be transparent. Share some of your imperfections and struggles. Let your team know that you’ve had plenty of struggles and have made plenty of mistakes (and still do). This will reduce their stress and make it more likely that they’ll ask for help when they need it. It can also be very motivational for your team to see how you were able to overcome your problems. It’ll give them confidence that they can overcome their problems too.
I’m not suggesting here that you lower your standards and settle for mediocre performance. What I am suggesting is that you acknowledge to your team that nobody’s perfect (including you) and that it’s OK to ask for help when they have a problem.  By expecting consistent performance improvement from your team instead of perfection, you’ll get better results.
The bottom line: Being a perfectionist and focusing on perfection is not the perfect approach for your business. The pursuit of perfection causes a lot of stress for you and your team and, as I hope you’ve learned in this article, demanding perfection can hold your business back.
What I’d like you to do instead is change your mindset and your approach and accept that imperfection is a natural part of your business. Focus your energy on continuous improvement and continuous progress instead.

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