A Perspective on the "Enemy" and Setting Performance Standards

When listening to an organizational assessment recently, a couple of things came to mind. The first was related to a manager who is smitten with the "Perfection Syndrome". That is, he needs everything to be perfect and manages to that standard. While the drive for perfection tends to guarantee good quality, there may be other unrecorded costs such as overinvesting in creating the product or delivering a service.

The quote that came to mind is:

"Perfection is the enemy of 'good enough'."

While we can agree that not-good-enough is unacceptable, there is often ambiguity around what's good enough versus what's perfect. I recall an exchange between a consultant and a manager in which the consultant asked the manager: "What represents 'good enough' for you?"

The manager responded, "95%". The consultant, in turn, said, "That (95%) represents perfection for me."

That tells you that in the same situation, the two of them would set the bar at different heights and would manage clearing the bar to different standards.

So what?

While contemplating the above, a second quote came to mind:

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

If we put "if" at the beginning of each quote to make them premises in the logical argument, the conclusion that follows is:

"Perfection is the friend of my enemy."

In this case, your "enemy" is your competitor, the success of your organization, or enterprise, or sustainability.

We are not making a case for mediocrity. It is a call for paying attention to the standards you set related to the requirements of your customer or client. If the client/customer requires perfection, then that's the standard.

If, however, the customer has requirements that are acceptable, but not as good as possible (i.e., perfection), then there are implications for both the standards you set and how you manage to those standards.