Perfectionism is something we tend to glorify and look for in employees and businesses. However, it can have some unintended consequences.In a new book, “Uncommon Service,” Anne Morriss and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei make the counterintuitive, but compelling argument that true success for service businesses requires that you give up on being perfect; that you make some tradeoffs.
In an interview with HBS Working Knowledge, Morriss said that they consider “the failure to make necessary tradeoffs is the number one obstacle to excellence in service organisations.”
That failure is a result of a desire to do everything extremely well. That’s a strategic and competitive error. Doing everything well actually holds you back in your most important areas.
Professor Frei uses Southwest as an example:
“My favourite example is organisations that use colour-coded monthly management reports: green for things that are going well, yellow for areas that are OK, and red for places that are falling behind. The obvious reaction is to say, “Get better at the reds.” That’s fine, unless the presence of the reds is what’s fueling the greens. Southwest Airlines would be red on food service. But Southwest doesn’t pay much attention to that, because getting better at food service would slow its turnaround time, which is a big green for the airline when it comes to pleasing its customers.”
Managers have to have the courage to admit and commit to the idea of doing some things badly without remorse.
Sometimes, the employees we regard as heroes, the ones who come in early, stay late, and solve every problem can actually create issues. When an employee heroically steps in and keeps a client from leaving or prevents a catastrophe, the outcome may be positive in the short run, but it means long-term issues are avoided. The simple fact that heroic measures are required means customers aren’t being treated right.
Fixing big problems often means making hard, but needed tradeoffs instead of glossing over them.
So instead of the usual question of what you should be doing well, ask what you should not be doing perfectly.
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