Setting the Target – Should Leadership Focus on Perfection?
July 10, 2019
Perfection. It sounds so desirable, but while most know that perfection is not possible, many leaders still strive for it. The question is, Should a leader strive for perfection all the time?
Striving for perfection means targeting that tiny pinpoint in the middle of the bullseye. While some situations call for pinpoint perfection, the rest of the time the level of effort required is unnecessary and drains resources. But if not perfection, what should be targeted
Setting the Target – 3 Classes of Decisions
One of the keys is for leaders to consciously consider the level of effort that is appropriate and for teams to have a common language to communicate it.
- Very Good
- Good Enough
Assuming that perfection is reserved for rare occasions, leaders should assess whether the targeted outcome in each situation needs to be excellent, very good, or good enough. Then they should work to ensure that the team understands what is needed. Having this conversation upfront sets the stage for better execution.
The Cost of Perfection
If it takes 40 hours to get a project to “excellent” and 70 hours to approach “perfect,” was the outcome worth the extra 30 hours? If the appropriate target in this case is excellence, then 30 hours was wasted. Multiply that time and effort by the number of tasks and projects, and the cost of the indiscriminate pursuit of perfection becomes clearer. In addition, it may leave the tank empty when perfection really is needed.
This doesn’t even account for the cost to the perfectionist personally, the culture, and the team members who are being asked to produce perfection all the time.
Culture of Perfectionism or of High-Performance?
Both cultures of perfectionism and of high-performance exhibit elevated standards, attention to detail, and a willingness to go the extra mile in their collective commitment to quality. But perfectionism demands an inordinately high level of energy regardless of the impact to the outcome. This can create unnecessary bottlenecks and angst. Teams and projects are often micromanaged and projects may be chronically late because they never seem to be perfect enough: the product isn’t ready to launch – our transition to centralized underwriting is not ready for rollout – we are not ready to go live on our intranet.
Shifting from a culture of perfectionism to one of high-performance requires building habits of intentionally choosing the appropriate target for each situation and using a common language to communicate it. This helps put the focus on what really matters for leaders, their teams, and the organization.