Chapter - 1 : If perfection kills . . .

Perfection is like a medicine. When taken in excess, it does more harm than good.

Achieve perfection. But don’t expect perfection, especially when you delegate. That could be a highly debatable beginning. But in no way does it mean that high performance is disregarded. It just reiterates that every individual is different. Employees are human too. And sometimes their underperformance is involuntary. That’s when leaders are expected to step in to understand that sometimes good enough is good enough.

Perfection is a term that’s synonymous with most entrepreneurs. And in the early stages of a business, it comes in handy. For some, this eye for detail could be a point of differentiation too. But as business grows, it is humanly impossible for founders to continue doing what they used to. In the initial phase, they are used to doing things themselves. But to elevate their business, their contribution comes in the form of empowering their teams to do things. And this is where most entrepreneurs struggle. They look for people who work like them, who complete tasks like them. They begin to expect a reflection. What they tend to forget is the fact that even reflection is a flipped imagery of the actual subject!

However, in their run to achieve perfection, entrepreneurs ignore the following issues it begins to create:

  • It leads to micromanagement, and that earns the ire of the employees. Employees thrive on confidence that higher-ups put in them. But if they’re not directed right, they feel choked. In fact, it also puts entrepreneurs off track from their actual job of looking at the bigger picture of the organization.
  • It tends to kill the morale of the employees, and puts a big break on areas like productivity, thereby substantially increasing expenses and creating a huge dent in profits. And that’s certainly not a positive sign for any business.
  • It increases attrition. With no milestones being achieved, people tend to lose interest in their jobs. And it is proven that job satisfaction is mostly ranked above monetary benefits too. The flip side, however, is that sometimes it could also be demeaning to employees that they are wrongly perceived as underperformers, especially because perfection is subjective in nature. Hence, they begin to retaliate in an unusual or destructive way.
  • It affects organizational health, as it becomes a bigger baggage than expected. That’s because once the existing employees leave, three times more time, money, and effort are invested in hunting for, interviewing, recruiting, training, and retaining new employees.

This is when leaders have to shift focus from perfection. They need to realize that sometimes good enough is good enough. It is only when they loosen up a little, give room to subordinates, not make them self- conscious, and encourage an atmosphere where mistakes are reference points for improvement that there will be a positive change.

Though there are books that talk about the art of delegation and getting work done, the problem area mostly remains untouched. So, where exactly is the gap? Well, it is in understanding that achieving perfection is great. But expecting perfection, especially from everyone, can be harmful to an entrepreneur and an organization both. When delegating work, unless the subordinate is highly exceptional, an entrepreneur has to be prepared for any shortfall that may show up. He will then slowly need to fill the gaps and help his subordinate cut down on the same, one after the other.

In a practical scenario, employees struggle in various areas. This could range from lack of clarity on a specific job to no proper training, from partial understanding of the subject to various other reservations. Hence, the job doesn’t reach perfection. But perfection, contrary to popular belief, is not a destination; it is a journey. And when it begins to kill, remember that sometimes good enough is good enough!

Chapter - 2 : Sometimes all you have to do is stick around

Patience doesn’t just mean wait. It also means weigh.

When things start soaring in organizations, processes are tweaked, new roles are created, the crisis management team is called in, budgets are allocated, strategies are formed, board meetings take place, and a whole lot of hush is created to address the issue. People are forced to think for solutions that would fix the problems. Small businesses do not have the luxury of defined roles, excessive meetings, a huge set of board members, or the comfort of departments and teams that specialize in crisis management. These are more about one man’s instinct that is an amalgamation of emotions wrapped in strategies, and hope wrapped in goals. In order to address every issue that crops up, entrepreneurs tend to forget the basics. Entrepreneurs tend to ignore the fact that sometimes we don’t find solutions at that very moment. And that’s not because we lack the required skills; it is because our approach is a forced one. It is more about coming out of the problem with a clean chit, quickly. We focus on fixing up what’s at hand and forget the big picture in the process. The big picture is not about clearing that very episode; it is about understanding the crux of the problem better. And that happens only when we decide to stick around. With a natural tendency to face challenges, we forget to take that much-needed pause.

This pause is what we call the art of sticking around and doing nothing. That’s because our mind needs free space to function better. When we’re stuffed with a problem, there’s no room for a solution to show up. These are the times when all you need to do is stick around. You don’t have to move ahead, you don’t have to prove that you are on the job, you don’t have to answer, you don’t have to question; all you have to do is take a pause. That’s when you’ll really see things from a broader perspective. That’s when you you’ll not just discover solutions, you’ll begin to create them.

One such instance took place in one of the biggest e-commerce companies. It was a team of 250 people who were handling one of the most complicated areas of business—premium customer complaints. There was a sudden and an unusual rise in customer complaints. As this was an important aspect of the business, it was very evident that the team was struggling. All the frills of the big and heady organizations came into play: senior management’s advice, team leaders’ involvement (read ‘interference’), communications team’s intervention, et al. Every single person had his own understanding of the situation and its adverse affects on the business.

Now was the time when everyone wanted to work out a solution and take credit for the radical change they could strategize to bring the situation under control. The reason for the downfall was identified as the recent new hires who were inducted into the team. It was said that these individuals lacked the skills required to be a part of the team. They were, apparently, not trained properly. There were other obvious reasons that were identified too. And then began all the retraining processes, customer-centricity initiatives, performance-linked incentive plans, and a few more steps that would bring about the required change. Nothing worked!

The reason was simple; the real problem was never identified. All the solutions were being worked around imaginary problems that were built on the fancy of each individual who had a say. So, what really went wrong?

Well, there was a technology failure. The software went a bit haywire. Instead of showing the data of customers who had to be contacted today, it reflected the data of customers who had been contacted the previous day. It was obvious that the customers were irate because of the repeated attempts to reach them. They were annoyed with the fact that their previous commitment was overlooked. And they were contacted even before the committed date arrived.

Ironically, the applied solutions didn’t address the actual issue but they led to many more problems. And yeah, not even one single person took that pause. The concept of sticking around was overlooked. If only the heads of the respective departments had invested more time in sticking around for a while before addressing the imaginary issue, they would have identified the crux of the real problem.