Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good
One of the hardest things a leader had to do sometimes is hold back enthusiastic employees or teammates who are so focused on perfection, they keep working on a project well past when they should’ve stopped. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.
On one hand, you want employees to work hard and strive for perfection, but on the other hand there’s usually more than one task to accomplish. On the other hand, sometimes you really do have to be perfect. So what’s the right balance?
The key here is to look at time the same as any other resource. Like all resources, time is valuable because it is not unlimited. In for-profit, non-profit, and governmental organizations alike time has a very definite cost that is quantifiable. Unfortunately, not every leader (or employee) thinks of time as a cost vs benefit transaction. Put another way, leaders should always be asking themselves: “what’s the return on my investment?”
Suppose a particular task takes an employee 40 hours to get the desired product but it’s not perfect (say it’s 90% of what we wanted), and it will take another 40 hours to make the product perfect. Is 90% good enough?
Maybe. What will it cost if my product is not perfect? Is it as perfect as my customer needs it to be, but not quite up to what I wasn’t it to be? Then maybe the extra 40 hours of time spent (100% more time) isn’t worth the 10% improvement.
Maybe not. If I have a demanding customer, or the 10% imperfection is noticeable and will affect my reputation, or if 100% is necessary for life/safety/health then the cost-benefit analysis demands I keep working until it’s perfect, then those extra 40 hours are not only worth it, they’re necessary.
In addition to managing time as a resource, the leader needs to manage employee morale as well. Morale, like time, is finite and like time can be spent. Unlike time, morale can be replenished. A wise leader knows when to require perfection and when to let “good enough” really be good enough. Avoid making changes to an employee’s work because of personal preference (don’t change “happy” to “glad”). Don’t require more work than is necessary to get the job done right, and don’t sweat the small things. Employees will appreciate the freedom, and will usually respond when they’re asked for perfection if it’s only demanded when it matters.
Leaders should only demand perfection when it’s necessary. To do otherwise could mean wasting time and employee morale.