Why do so many companies find it difficult to move at pace? There are many books and articles that argue it’s about structure and organisation. But, organisational structures simply reflect the beliefs and values of the leadership team; they are a symptom, not a cause.

In fact there is an underlying condition that creates lethargy and puts the brakes on pace. I call this condition Perfection Addiction and it is a multi-symptomatic condition that inhibits managers and leaders from making the decisions and taking the actions that would move their businesses forward. Perfection Addiction is an insidious condition that impacts all areas of an organization.

Symptoms of organizations that are infected with Perfection Addiction include:

  1. Risk Aversion. Managers avoiding, rather than managing risk, is a common signal that an organization is suffering from Perfection Addiction. There is no growth without risk, and yet many successful companies seem to forget the behaviours and attitudes that created their success and fail to try anything new.
  2. Failure Intolerance. A retail CEO once invited me to the opening of a new concept store. The company had made a reasonable investment in the new concept and so there were high hopes that this trial would succeed. The store looked great, and the initial customer reaction was extremely positive. I turned to one of the project managers and asked him if he’d been closely involved with the development. “Well,” he replied laconically, “It’s too early to say.” Behind his witticism was an understanding that his business demanded immediate success and had an unwillingness to accept any sort of failure, even when testing new concepts.
  3. Labyrinthine Accountabilities. The desire, often unstated, not to fail, not to make mistakes and to avoid risk leads, over time, to the development of organisations where rules, regulations and controls suffocate decision-making and autonomy. In these businesses it is committees that rule, not leaders, and while there may be a legion of managers who can say no to a particular decision, it is almost impossible to find the person who has the power to say yes.
  4. Incremental Goals. If you’re addicted to perfection, are unwilling to risk failure, and want to ensure that you always reach your target, then you will only ever set goals you know you will achieve. Consequently, you are almost inevitably focused on setting and achieving incremental, rather than step-change goals. And, if you only ever want to improve sales, customer satisfaction and loyalty, operational productivity or profit by a few percentage points, then you can usually make that happen by doing what you do already, but just a bit better. The problem is that, in chaotic, fast-changing markets, ‘doing what you do’ is not the best way to secure longer-term success.
  5. Problem-Solving, Not Innovating. The twin of incremental goal-setting is a problem-solving approach to performance improvement. It is virtually impossible to have an organisation that seeks perfection, avoids risk and sets incremental goals but which is also innovative. Instead, it is problem-solving that is the way to achieve your targets, and problem-solvers who are the organisational heroes.

How does your business compare? Is it able to move at pace to seize on new opportunities as they arise, or is it weighed down by its Perfection Addiction?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.