Newmeasures: Insights for an exceptional workforce

Perfection is the Enemy of Action

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I appreciate the sentiment of this adage. I have the tendency to operate according to the idea of “if you’re going to do something, do it right.” However, using this approach to solve organizational issues can result in analysis paralysis. Take employee experience surveys for example. While most organizations conduct these types of surveys, research shows that many fail to take action on the data. Why is this? I believe perfectionism is one of the barriers getting in the way. Therefore, I’d argue that in organizations, “perfection is the enemy of action.”

As human capital professionals, we need to empower people leaders to not fear action because they don’t have the perfect answer.

Sometimes, it takes a period of great difficulty to remind us that leader responsiveness matters more than a perfectly crafted, but too-late-to-be-relevant solution. In 2020, the world was collectively challenged in unprecedented ways. Leaders responded in a remarkable way—they just did things! They collaborated across departments. They acted quickly and innovatively to protect and support their staff and customers. They asked employees what they needed and allowed those responses to inform decisions. Not coincidently, we saw engagement levels soar. Why? My hunch is that leaders felt encouraged to take swift and meaningful action without the pressure of having the perfect answer.

I learned my own lesson about letting go of the quest for perfection by spending time in nature. After an arduous period, I needed to get off the hamster wheel and do some self-discovery. So, I set off on a two-month adventure traveling the west coast in a converted van. At first, I spent weeks mapping out the “perfect” route to ensure I made it to all the national and state parks I’d always dreamed of visiting. Attempting to follow an exact plan ended up causing me more stress when I inevitably faced unpredictable circumstances. Looking back, what I remember most is not necessarily all I accomplished and saw, but the empowerment I gained from facing uncertainty and ambiguity with flexibility and an open mind. By just putting one muddy hiking boot in front of the other I learned to utilize the tools and abilities I already possessed to react when the unexpected came along. At the time, I didn’t anticipate how battling a temperamental refrigerator in 110-degree heat in the desert, roasting marshmallows while it snowed in the Sawtooth mountains, or herding cattle in Montana would be relevant to my profession in organizational psychology. Now, I notice a personal mindset shift from achievement to growth in the way I approach work and show up for my colleagues and clients.

Organizations now have the employee experience data they need to take action – and we need to support those responsible for decision making and execution to use the right data at the right time. Encourage leaders at all levels to use a design thinking approach and act on employee experience data by trying new ideas, expecting mistakes, learning, and continuing to push forward knowing they’re equipped with the resources and skills to act when the unexpected comes along.

Empower and enable leaders in your organization to act and make decisions based on the knowledge and tools they have.

Getting to Action

HOW exactly can you enable leaders to take quick, impactful action, in your organization? Though there’s no perfect answer, it begins with fostering a growth-oriented culture by:

Supporting data literacy at all levels, so leaders can connect the dots to make informed decisions.

Promoting various approaches to action. This McKinsey article denotes different initiative sizes as “rocks, pebbles, and sand”, where over half of an organization’s transformation value is derived from seemingly smaller actions.

Celebrating innovative strategies already occurring in pockets within the organization to inspire other leaders.

Encouraging psychological safety in taking action. It is critical to create space for employees to speak up. And we need to make it equally safe for leaders to try new ideas, fail fast, learn, iterate, and discover what works within their team.

Embracing uncertainty and ambiguity; valuing innovation over the perfect solution.

My time on the road taught me that discovery and progress happen when we’re encouraged to interact with imperfection. I’m not suggesting that you train leaders to act brashly. I do suggest that you empower and enable leaders in your organization to act and make decisions based on the knowledge and tools they have. Encourage them to learn from the outcomes then apply that learning to continue evolving. Don’t let perfection become the enemy of action in your organization.

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Jeanine leverages her experience in business strategy and organizational psychology to support leaders in utilizing data and insights to drive action and foster positive work cultures. Connect with Jeanine at:
Jeanine Small
Implementation Specialist
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