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Perfection Paralysis

“Practice makes Perfect.”

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

These were two of my mother’s favorite sayings. The first one appeared when I didn’t want to practice for my piano lessons. I knew I was a decent piano player, but I was never going to be “perfect.” My ten-year-old brain’s reasoning surmised: “So why spend all that time practicing?”

The second of my mother’s favorite sayings could be heard when her children were saying nasty things to one another. At that tender age, I heard it to also mean that if you did’t pick your words well and couldn’t speak eloquently, be quiet.

Fast forward a few years. With maturity comes insight. I realized at some point that practice has benefits other than perfection. In fact, the saying should read: “Practice make competent.”

When we teach others a functional skill, we are working to get them to a level of competency so they can perform a task. We expect correctness, not perfection.

Much of training in a business consists of teaching people how to do something. If we force the issue that an employee or associate needs to do something error-free, we end up with frustration and disappointment. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

This is not to say that compliance training is unimportant or can be glossed over. When we teach for compliance, we expect associates to leave training with the tools they need to do their jobs competently and in compliance with the law. Perfection is not the issue here. Associates must understand and be aware of their words and actions.

We train people to lead in the organization by communicating effectively and being good listeners. No one is served if everyone keeps their ideas to themselves and does not express thoughts and opinions. Many of us have experienced the leader who shuts down associates in meetings in favor of his or her ideas. Done frequently enough, this results in associates not saying anything at all for fear of saying something wrong.

Self-censorship puts a stop to advancing the organization. What happens is that the lack of different viewpoints or ideas leads to staleness. Diversity of opinion offers fresh looks at a situation or problem. Everyone benefits when associates are encouraged to offer their ideas and solutions.

What can trainers do?¬†Create a climate where people accept their mistakes and share ideas. Encourage differing viewpoints. Promote and listen to discussions. Help associates understand how they can better themselves. Embrace diversity. If we insist on perfection in actions and words in the workplace, we’ll experience a paralyzed workforce with little impetus to move forward in their work.

Perfectionism stops a lot of creativity.