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Managing Ms. Perfect

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Perfectionists can be counted on for high-quality output that includes every bit of what you asked for (and then some). Speed and the ability to prioritize, however, often take a back seat.

As Jeff Szymanski, author of The Perfectionist’s Handbook, points out, perfectionism is not inherently positive or negative, but it does task managers with encouraging the aspects that are working and managing those that are detrimental. Here’s how:

Make timing clear

Perfectionists excel at picking up on and remembering the tiny details of a project but tend to undervalue efficiency and deadlines. When assigning a task to a perfectionist, state the key purpose, deadline and why it must be met—before you go

into any other details. When the meeting is complete, clarify expectations and timing again to keep your perfectionist’s focus on the big picture. Ask for his or her initial thoughts so you can identify valuable ideas and eliminate time wasters.

Touch base regularly

Perfectionists typically have good intentions but get so caught up in nuances that they can’t see the bigger picture. As a manager, your time and attention are the most valuable tools you can give a perfectionist. Conduct meetings to understand where time is being spent and how you can help the perfectionist determine priorities to ensure that he or she isn’t going overboard in details.

Be specific but sensitive

Perfectionists tend to be hard on themselves and have a high need to impress. When giving feedback, address what was done well and what needs work—but don’t deliver a two-sided message. Help him or her recognize business goals—and the point of diminishing returns. Give specific feedback that the perfectionist can apply in a way that is actionable. For example, “The pie charts were a nice touch, but I would have valued receiving the report three hours earlier, even more.”

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