Meet Kate*. Kate’s a manager in tech and manages a team of 5. Kate is very busy, all the time. In fact, she’s so busy that she doesn’t have time to get involved in company initiatives or high-profile projects. Kate’s too busy to think about this or why it might be important for her. Kate works long hours, in at 8, out at 7. Kate is hoping that some day soon, she’ll get on top of things and get to leave by 6. That’s the hope, anyway.
Kate’s been in her role for the last 3 years. 3 years in a tech role is a lifetime. Kate’s seen several colleagues promoted above her. She can’t figure out why they’ve been promoted and she hasn’t. She works longer and harder and yet they still promoted. Kate’s not too happy.
What’s going on for Kate? Why is she running to standstill? In talking to Kate about why she works such long hours, she mentions she likes things done right so, when Kate’s reviewing her team’s work, she just takes it and finishes it off for them. She figures it doesn’t take too long, just 10, maybe 15, 20 minutes tops, per piece. Kate likes to be in control and know that the work is done to the right standard.
When asked why she doesn’t give the work back and explain how and why it needs to be re-done, Kate shares how she used to do this but found that she kept getting the eye-roll and a promise that they’d get back to her. Of course, she’d end up chasing after them for it. Kate found it very frustrating and easier to just do it herself.
As an executive coach, listening to why Kate thinks she’s the only person that can meet her high standards, it strikes me that Kate has a value of Perfection. When probed further, Kate shares that 100% is her standard, even if 90% or 95% is more than enough. Kate’s value of Perfection is holding her back. Kate’s need to be in control and to finish everything to 100% is eating up all her time and sapping her career opportunities.
The Downside of the Perfection Value
I define values as a set of standards that we expect ourselves, and others, to live up to. As an executive coach, I’ve worked with several people who have a value of perfection and this is what I’ve learnt.
- The value of perfection drives a need to finish the last 10% of a task, even thought it might only deliver 0.01% of additional value.
- A manager with a value of perfection focuses their attention on the wrong things, stunting their career opportunities.
- A manager with a value of perfection sets such a high standard that it demotivates the team.
- A manager with a value of perfection will always focus on the 1% not completed, rather than the 99% achieved, demotivating the team.
- A manager with a value of perfection will finish off the team’s unfinished work, rather than equip the team to complete their work, driving the standard down, as the team know the manager will pick it up and finish it off.
- A value of perfection comes at a high cost, often professionally and personally.
It’s very typical for someone with a value of perfection to be promoted into junior management, as they finish their work to a high standard and make sure everything is done. They start to struggle when they have a team to manage. Suddenly, they have their own work plus finishing off bits and pieces from the team’s work. They end up staying later and later, working harder and harder. Their value of perfection leads to standards that feel unattainable or always focus on the negative, demotivating the team, leading to further performance issues. None of this is career enhancing.
Managing Perfection Value Tendencies
If this sounds familiar, it may be you have a value of perfection. If so, here’s 5 suggestions to help you break the habit:
- Identify which tasks need to be done to 100% (you’ll probably find there aren’t too many of these) and which can be done to a 80%, 90% or 95% and still be more than acceptable. For example, an aeroplane needs to be landed safely 100% of the time but cooking dinner to 85% will still taste great.
- For non-100% tasks you identified, set a standard at the beginning of it and aim for this. Once that standard is achieved, stop. If you can’t just stop, set a timer and allow yourself another 5 or 10 minutes and then stop.
- When giving feedback to staff, focus on the 95% or 99% they did right and ask yourself “is there really a business impact of not doing that last 5% or 1%?”.
- If a team member does need to make a change, articulate the business reason why the change needs to be made. If you can’t put it in terms of a business impact, this is your issue. In the words of Elisa, let it go.
- If you’re really struggling, I would strongly suggest finding an executive coach, to help you change your dynamics.
*Kate is fictional, based in many people who have a value of perfection. If you recognise yourself in Kate, let me know in the comments below how your value of perfection shows up for you. If you found this useful and would like to hear about how other values drive our behaviour, pop a note in the comments. Please feel free to like and share . Read about How Loyalty Maybe Hurting Your Career.
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