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We all know one – the perfectionist worker who gets a project 98% right and then sweats on the final 2% so much that the project drags on and on.
For an impatient leader, these staff can be heaven and hell. While their commitment and passion is unquestioned, the impractical approach they can take is often infuriating.
Dealing with perfectionists in the right way is not easy, but as writer Amy Gallo suggests at the Harvard Business Review, a mix of good cop and bad cop is necessary.
For starters, finding a perfectionist the right job is important. Recognise that they may not be good as managers – they can be overly demanding of staff and have trouble delegating – and try to find a role that has a relatively limited scope and where their fastidiousness will be appreciated.
But the behaviour needs to be confronted – in the right way.
“Explain what you're seeing – ‘I notice that you like to get everything right’ – and then help them see the downsides... Explain that by setting priorities and identifying what matters most, they can save themselves time and effort... [Also explain] how perfectionist tendencies often prevent people from getting uniformly positive reviews or rising into management... Show your direct reports that letting go of perfect is a step toward achieving their big-picture goals.”
One interesting point raised is that perfectionists often respond badly to criticism. Harvard professor Thomas J. DeLong suggests asking the perfectionist for advice on how they want to receive performance feedback in a way that won’t crush their spirit. "Have the hope and confidence that they will take it well," says DeLong.
This month’s edition of Management Today from the Australian Institute of Management has a profile of “media king” Harold Mitchell on its cover and contains some great insights into how the veteran media buyer built his empire.
One of the highlights of the piece is an anecdote about how Mitchell was rescued by Kerry Packer.
“In 1990, Mitchell was perilously close to going bust, owing $32 million as a result of some poor outside investments. He was contemplating the loss of the family home and business when he received a phone call. It was Kerry ringing out of the blue and he said he had heard I might be having a problem and he invited me to meet him in Sydney."
Packer eventually offered Mitchell an interest-free loan of $1.9 million, but the media mogul had a heart attack a few days later. Fortunately for Mitchell, the Big Fella rang and finalised the loan from his sick bed.
"It reinforced for me the importance in life of loyalty,” Mitchell says.
The article also revealed some of Mitchell’s secrets for successful meetings, taken from his book Living Large.
He says one key is to try and keep meetings short. He argues the selection of the chairperson is crucial in this.
“Choose a busy business executive as chairman because they will keep meetings short.”
He also says a single person should be nominated to speak on an issue, with discussion allowed only where there is substantial disagreement.
He also recommends getting people to speak without notice on topics to ensure they are “kept on their toes”.
McKinsey Quarterly has an excellent series of features on the topic of “big data” and how it is being used to transform major companies.
The introduction to the series gives a great example of how the trend is wreaking havoc in some sectors: “The top marketing executive at a sizable US retailer recently found herself perplexed by the sales reports she was getting. A major competitor was steadily gaining market share across a range of profitable segments. Despite a counterpunch that combined online promotions with merchandising improvements, her company kept losing ground.”
“When the executive convened a group of senior leaders to dig into the competitor’s practices, they found that the challenge ran deeper than they had imagined. The competitor had made massive investments in its ability to collect, integrate, and analyse data from each store and every sales unit and had used this ability to run a myriad of real-world experiments. At the same time, it had linked this information to suppliers’ databases, making it possible to adjust prices in real time, to reorder hot-selling items automatically, and to shift items from store to store easily. By constantly testing, bundling, synthesising and making information instantly available across the organisation – from the store floor to the CFO’s office – the rival company had become a different, far nimbler type of business.”
According to the piece: “in 15 of the US economy’s 17 sectors, companies with more than 1,000 employees store, on average, over 235 terabytes of data – more data than is contained in the US Library of Congress” and are using this to finetune their operations in ways previously thought impossible.
The piece goes on to ask five questions which many managers will have to confront in the coming years:
1. What happens in a world of radical transparency, with data widely available?
2. If you could test all of your decisions, how would that change the way you compete?
3. How would your business change if you used big data for widespread, real-time customisation?
4. How can big data augment or even replace management?
5. Could you create a new business model based on data?