Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Yet another reason half-right is the new perfect

Freedom. That's what I felt when I read today's HBR article, "How to Escape Perfectionism". Not only is perfectionism as a consultant a hindrance to organizational effectiveness, but this article reveals it's a hindrance to your own productivity. Iceland, as a culture that does not stigmatize failure,  is ranked the happiest place on earth and is one of the most productive - with more artists per capita than any other country. If Icelanders pursue activities they're not initially good at, failure doesn't hinder them from moving forward and building competence.

Reflecting on my upbringing in the States, this leaves me wondering how often I hold back because I know I won't be perfect. How often the fear of being laughed at inhibits me. What experiences have I missed out on because I was too afraid to try?

And it also leads me to think about what attitudes we're encouraging in the workplaces. Is your company culture one that leads to fear-avoidance -- where it's easier for employees to just do nothing than to risk failure. Are your numerous assessment tools, e.g. performance reviews, 360 evaluations, personality assessment, etc., that point out performance weaknesses balanced with rewards for taking on new projects to build competencies. Is failure embraced as part of the learning and growing process or is it means for removal?

In his book Management Rewired, Charles Jacobs relates the latest findings in neuroscience research to the leadership/management field. One key message is that critical performance feedback typically serves to undermine performance improvement. At best, employees will dismiss it. At worst, they will become disengaged. I suspect that this is not so much attributed to the fact that people think they're already perfect, but that they're put off by the connotation of failure implicit in critical feedback.   Jacobs argues that allowing employees to own their own development plans, to self-assess their improvements and competencies and to take charge of their own learning will produce much better results. And the folks in Iceland are proof that it works!

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