“It’s good enough.”
If you’re a perfectionist, those words will drive you crazy. After all, good enough isn’t the bar you’re striving for. You’re a CEO. You wouldn’t be in the role you’re in if you settled for good enough at any point in your career.
Your aspirations are for year-over-year growth, excellence in execution, with the highest quality possible. In your mind, good enough will not get you there.
What if, though, in your quest for greatness, your perfectionism, including the expectation of perfection in others, is holding your organization back? Then your opportunity to be an agile, learning and responsive organization diminishes significantly.
It might surprise you, but a good enough mindset could be the secret your organization has been waiting for to unlock its true potential. Embracing this mindset at the top and all the way down to the ground floor helps your business:
• See results faster
• Delegate and leverage the strength of your entire team
• Have more time and mental energy to spend on other aspects of your business – like innovation, process improvement, and continuous learning
This mindset allows you to lead your business like a Marine Corps officer leads their battalion.
One of the nimblest and most execution focused organizations in the world is the United States Marine Corps. The institution understands that leaders in their organization will be imperfect – and, in fact, teaches them to embrace imperfection and be quick to act and remain initiative-oriented at all levels.
To be clear: the Marine Corps has incredibly high standards, so being good enough doesn’t mean sloppy, incomplete, or lazy. It’s solid. It’s being conscientious of results while recognizing that analysis paralysis costs your business its most precious asset – time. Time to learn, time to adapt, and time to change course if results aren’t being achieved.
If you’re ready for your business to dabble in the dark arts of good enough, here are three ideas that can help you address perfectionist tendencies in yourself, and further into your organization:
1. Know when perfect matters—and let others know, too.
First off, imperfection isn’t always the answer. Your business needs to be perfect when:
• You send financial reports to the board to weigh in on an important decision;
• Small details matter, such as timeline coordination among departments for a new product launch or high-profile project;
• Safety is involved—whether it’s food or physical safety, if there are strict procedures or protocols, perfectionism is the aim.
But here’s when imperfection is okay:
• Town hall speeches or when there’s no perfect way to communicate difficult news. While there are better ways, pick the best one for you and go with it. You know your people, your business, and lean on your EQ – go with your gut.
• Decision-making where there’s no right choice, like in hiring decisions or even mergers. This is when you rely on your research, expertise and team, and make the call.
• When the details you obsess about don’t matter to your stakeholders, which can include locations for leadership team retreats or the background you choose for your company-wide monthly video messages.
As a leader with a propensity for perfection, a great question to ask is: Does perfect matter here? If not, make the call. If this comes naturally for you or you’ve built this habit – great! But, also consider everyone around you. Be sure that you communicate when perfect is and isn’t necessary for the organization.
2. Demonstrate the 80% solution
The Corps recognizes that one of the most important things Marines do is make decisions that drive results. Marines also operate frequently in low-information environments. In these circumstances, a Marine’s task is to uncover enough information—what they believe to be an 80% target—and then take action.
The organization recognizes there’s no such thing as a perfect decision and its leaders will never have all the information they need to make a perfect choice that will result in a perfect solution. Leaders are challenged to make imperfect decisions and perfect them along the way.
Business leaders, like Marines, must make important decisions. So, if you find yourself splitting hairs over with choosing a new market to pursue, putting together a workplace policy, or holding on to a brilliant direct report who isn’t a right fit for the culture, ask yourself: “Do I have enough information – 80% – to make this call?” If the answer is “yes,” make a decision. Besides, you can trust that your intuition, experience, and wisdom can strengthen your 80%. And the missing 20%? It’s likely unattainable and will cost you valuable time in pursuit of something you’ll never find.
3. Embrace the “1/3rds, 2/3rds” rule.
Imagine your research team comes to you with data that helps you identify a new market to use your product in. You gather your leadership team together, share your vision, and co-create a strategy. There’s a lot of external buzz, which generates excitement, but internally your team is slow to act. You learn quickly that there are many plans being created in closed door meetings, with departments hesitant to act aggressively on the new direction laid out in front of them. They want more time, more meetings, which means more elegant PowerPoints and delayed results. You know that delay is not an option and as a leader you need to position your team to act.
This is when the 1/3rds, 2/3rds rule needs to be presented to your team. This is a rule the Marine Corps uses to implement a rapid planning process so they can get to execution faster, while learning from experience, and get results to help them calibrate future actions.
Planning is important. But over-planning, which often is a perfectionist’s Achilles Heel, delays momentum, competitive advantage and results.
Set expectations to implement an efficient planning process that takes up 1/3rd of the time provided. This leaves 2/3rds of your team’s time executing. Communicate solid dates, check-ins on progress, and be clear on the expected timeline. Allow for feedback on concerns, ask for solutions, and press for forward momentum. It’s surprising what creative solutions teams can arrive at when deadlines are set. That’s the spirit of Parkinson’s Law: work will always expand to the amount of time it’s given.
When your business takes action, everyone learns, which provides information that gives you an advantage to improve your execution in real time.
A difficult reality for perfectionists is that you and your team WILL make mistakes. The benefit of a good enough mindset is the understanding that mistakes are inevitable and fails aren’t fatal or final. Some of our greatest growth is a result of missteps and errors.
As leaders, as long as we’re learning, we should embrace the discomfort of an imperfect mindset. As for perfect? Save it for the moments that level of attention matters, as well as for perfecting our responses to our own imperfections. But beyond our own personal development, as leaders it is our responsibility to grow the mindsets of our teams and provide them with the tools needed to drive progression toward organizational goals. It’s not going to be perfect—but, in the end, the business will grow.