Perfectionism is the pursuit of the ideal — the unattainable standard that promises flawlessness. The allure of perfection lies in the belief that it leads to excellence, recognition and the highest level of achievement. Those who strive for perfection often set uncompromisingly high standards for themselves, aiming to produce the best possible results.
Focusing on details ensures that the end product is well-crafted and free from errors. It contributes to the production of high-quality work, which can be especially vital in fields such as medicine, engineering and aviation.
Additionally, attention to detail often requires a deep understanding of the subject matter. In trying to attain this, a person can achieve mastery and expertise in a particular area. This, in turn, helps businesses and customer-oriented industries ensure customer satisfaction as well.
“While subject matter expertise (SMEs) is required in many functions within an organisation, this expertise sometimes make a person inflexible. Rigidity can admittedly slow down processes.”
Deepti Mehta, CHRO, Interface Microsystems
Those who immerse themselves in the pursuit of perfection, often end up asking themselves, ‘Does this perfection or too much focus on details actually slow me down?’
Well, the pursuit of perfection has its merits but also brings inherent risks and pitfalls.
While subject matter expertise (SMEs) is required in many functions within an organisation, this expertise sometimes make a person inflexible. “Rigidity can admittedly slow down processes,” believes Deepti Mehta, CHRO, Interface Microsystems. Mehta illustrates with an example, “To handle payroll compliance requirement effectively, one must have a comprehensive understanding of the associated procedures. While it’s important to ensure that all processes are executed flawlessly and maintain a zero balance, in some cases, this depth of knowledge can make a person nonflexible because there may appear to be no room for deviation.”
Achieving perfection often requires a substantial amount of time and effort to meticulously fine-tune and ensure that every detail is faultless. However, “It may lead to delays in meeting deadlines or schedules, especially in time-constrained scenarios because the quest for perfection can be time-consuming,” points out Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader. While striving for excellence and perfection is commendable, it’s crucial to assess the specific circumstances and constraints of a given situation.
To explain the same, Mehta shares an example, “Two of my team members doing a similar audit follow different approaches. One makes the audit process so convoluted that no one else could replicate it. However, when we evaluate the productivity and the outcome of the audit, it reveals zero non-compliance. Nevertheless, the time taken to complete the task is a lengthy 25 days.”
“Creativity thrives on exploration, experimentation and sometimes embracing imperfection. When perfection is the sole focus, innovation and problem-solving may suffer.”
Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows, DCM Shriram
She then reveals how conversely, another team member accomplishes the same task in just seven days. However, she admits, “There may be one or two minor instances of non-compliance, which are generally manageable and don’t pose significant risks. Hence, the key distinction lies in the approach. While perfectionism can lead to meticulous work with minimal room for error, it often comes at the cost of efficiency and time.”
Furthermore, excessive attention to detail can stifle creativity. “Creativity thrives on exploration, experimentation and sometimes embracing imperfection. When perfection is the sole focus, innovation and problem-solving may suffer,” points out Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows, DCM Shriram.
Furthermore, excessive perfectionism impedes personal and professional growth. For instance, those with quarterback-obsessive perfectionism can severely limit creativity and idea generation. “They insist on everything aligning precisely with their ideal vision, which can severely hinder inventiveness. Since they already have a perfect scenario in mind, they become fixated on following that preconceived narrative. Any deviation from this ideal story leads to the discovery of perceived flaws. In the end, this approach hampers progress, restricts personal growth, and can even prevent them from reaching their intended goals,” opines Poddar.
Chasing perfectionism, especially when one is in a leadership role, greatly impacts the employees. Each employee is unique, and if the leaders are fixated on their own perfectionist narrative, it can leave the teams and their members feeling demotivated. They may perceive their leaders as not being open to their ideas and solely committed to their own preconceived goals. This, in turn, also stifles the team’s creativity, discouraging members from contributing their own novel ideas.
“It may lead to delays in meeting deadlines or schedules, especially in time-constrained scenarios because the quest for perfection can be time-consuming.”
Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader
While maintaining quality and striving for excellence is commendable, the modern world demands speed, agility and prompt decision-making. Overemphasising perfection can significantly slow down multiple processes. Therefore, it’s necessary to find a balance to manage one’s perfectionism along with maintaining the efficiency of the work.
“Striking a balance is essential to ensure that one’s work aligns with established guidelines and procedures, while also recognising that being 100 per cent perfect may not be feasible. It’s about being calculative in how one approaches the pursuit of perfection,” opines Mohanty. An individual has to define his personal sense of perfection for himself.
“It’s more beneficial to accept that mistakes may occur, learn from them, and move forward, avoiding the same errors in the future,” advises Poddar. She shares her own experience — “I have worked with an individual who was a staunch perfectionist and highly focused on intricate details. However, after seeking multiple feedbacks and gaining experience within the organisation, he came to realise that extreme perfectionism may hinder career progression. As he grew within the organisation, he consciously decided to trust and let go, delegating responsibilities to an appropriate extent. He would only intervene in tasks when necessary or when critical decisions were required. This shift in approach proved beneficial.”
Every individual has a unique personality and approach to work. Some naturally tend toward perfectionism, while others focus more on efficiency. Understanding these differences can foster collaboration and a more balanced perspective in a team or organisation.
Instead of directly pointing out errors or scrutinising data with a perfectionist lens, Poddar suggests “One should encourage individuals to explore how they can enhance a situation; encourage them to consider the pros and cons, to generate more ideas, and to identify opportunities for improvement themselves.” As she rightly points out, “This approach signifies a shift towards coaching, where individuals understand the importance of being detail-oriented and are actively involved in identifying and rectifying mistakes, with guidance from others.”