Is Perfectionism Killing Your Business Plans?

Last Updated Dec 6, 2010 6:54 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,
Our organization has lost several talented people. They are dissatisfied because of disparities in salaries and poor work environment. What should we do?
I think you should stop aiming for perfection and go for good enough.

I realize that comment may seem to come from out of nowhere. But, the reality is that if you know the problems are in salary disparities and a poor work environment, why write me? Instead go fix it.

Ahh, but you don't know how to fix it. And you want to make sure you do it right. So, you're waiting until you have a perfected plan.

But, there's a problem with perfection. People who will accept only perfection end up as failures. Why? Because they tend to want perfection so badly that they either freeze, unable to move forward (what you're doing) or move forward, assured of a perfect outcome and are wholly unprepared for the inevitable failures.

Let me show you an example of perfection:


Wow. Talk about perfection, right? I've seen them live several times and they are even more impressive in person. But, did you also notice the drum sticks on the ground? Their performance was amazing, but not perfect. However, one of the things that make the performance look so perfect is that they utterly expect failures and plan for it. Each one of those drummers have spare drum sticks in a pocket. When one is dropped, they don't make any attempt to pick it up. They just grab a new one and go on.

Think how awful the performance would be if they demanded and expected perfection. They'd have to make frequent stops to retrieve drum sticks. That doesn't work in the performance business, so instead they'd have to keep practicing over and over and over again until they achieve that elusive perfection--by which time the competition would be over and they would have no chance at success.

So, let's fix your problems. We're not going to do it perfectly. We're going to do it so it's good enough and we'll prepare for failure.
  1. Salary disparities: Give raises to the people who are below where they should be and freeze the salaries of the people who are above where they should be. The underpaid ones will be thrilled and the overpaid ones will be angry. That's fine because they are overpaid and can't find a better paying job anyway. Hint: If they can find a better paying job elsewhere, they aren't overpaid.
  2. Bad Work Environment: Having no idea if this is bad bosses or overflowing toilets, I'll talk about both. If it's bad bosses, coach the bosses, and if that fails-- fire the bosses. If it's overflowing toilets, hire a plumber. Safety issues, fix them.
Whee! All done. But you say, "I know that much, but I don't know how, which is why I'm asking you." I'm flattered, truly I am. But, without detailed information, that's all I can give you. Set yourself a deadline to figure out the raise thing. Remind the people who hold the purse strings that it's less expensive to give someone a $10,000 raise or install a new toilet than it is to replace that person. If HR throws up the old "that's outside of guidelines" routine, that's an expected failure. So, pull another stick out of your pocket and keep drumming. Have data ready to show turnover figures and market salary data. It doesn't need to be perfect--just true and believable.

If company culture rather than plumbing is the problem, pull your top performers from across the organization into a meeting and ask them what to do. Don't look at people's salary grades and titles before you pull them in. Pull in the best junior analysts and the best senior VPs. Make sure you protect these people because they are going to tell you what you really need to know. Don't bother hiring a high priced consultant to tell you--you know what they do? They talk to the best junior analysts and senior VPs and then write that up in a power point presentation and you give them the money should have spent fixing the salaries of your underpaid people. Just how is that going to help?

Don't freeze, waiting for the perfect solution to pop up. Perfection isn't required. What you're doing now is not working, so start moving towards fewer disparities and functioning potties and you'll quickly find that good enough is better than the status quo, and infinitely better than the do nothing of perfectionism.
Photo by NicestAlan, Flickr cc 2.0

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