• Terry Dockery

Perfectionism Kills Profits

The Vice President of Marketing was long past tired. She stared at the document in front of her without really seeing it; her mind was dull from fatigue. One of her Directors walked into her office and plopped into a chair across from her desk. He looked tired too. She mustered her strength and said, “I love this double digit growth, but I can’t maintain this pace much longer. I’m working really hard, but I’m not sure I’m working smart anymore.”   And she probably isn’t. Here’s the bottom line. Happy employees lead to happy customers lead to happy profits. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, but you’d be surprised by the number leaders who don’t understand this causal chain.   These leaders are always saying, “We don’t have time for touchy feely stuff, we’ve got to focus on profits.” So, who’s going to achieve those profits for you; your tired, frustrated, cranky team? If you’re lucky enough to have these leaders as competitors, then by all means capitalize on this weakness to outperform them in the marketplace.   More often than you might think the real culprit here is perfectionism—it is rampant among high achieving leaders. I define perfectionism as setting superhuman goals—then telling yourself you’re a failure for not achieving them. It's the self fulfilling prophecy at its most destructive (think frustration followed by depression).


The relationship between setting performance goals and subsequent performance is best envisioned as a bell shaped curve as in the figure below. Performance peaks as the goal setting standard and the ensuing stress level progresses from "mediocrity"; to "excellence"; and then begins to decline as the goal setting and ensuing stress level progresses from "excellence"; to "perfection".


Keep in mind that our goal is sustained high performance for your organization, not working people until they drop so that you get “shooting star” performance for a short time followed by an inevitable “burnout.” So how do you achieve sustained high performance? It’s counterintuitive, but you focus on:

  • Excellence over perfection,

  • Enjoyment over achievement, and

  • People over money


This will keep your team happy and motivated to keep your customers happy who are the key to achieving the profits you seek. If you don’t prioritize this way, your organization will never enjoy sustained high performance.

It turns out that perfection is the enemy of excellence, and that sometimes the best way to make more money is to lower your standards. Go figure...   TECHNIQUES   Technique #1:Set achievable goals that aim for a standard of “excellence” rather than “perfection.”

Technique #2: Prioritize enjoyment over achievement.   Technique #3: Prioritize people over money.


Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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