My daughter is learning how to drive, and it's been an interesting lesson on what the world looks like to a perfectionist. She has pretty much been a perfectionist since birth, missing recess in kindergarten to make sure her coloring was perfectly inside the lines, and drawing eyelashes and fingernails on her pictures when the other kids drew stick figures. Now, she is driving, and it takes 10 minutes to get the seat, mirrors, steering column, etc., in just the right spots. She has never driven over the speed limit, and most of the time is well-under because going over isn’t the right way to do it. She has to make sure the radio is turned off, everyone’s devices are turned off or silenced, and all distractions in the car are eliminated. And of course, as my driving is far from perfect, I hear lots of advice on how I should be doing things. It's been an interesting adventure, but has also given me a lot of insight into the mind of a perfectionist.
Most sales managers also have one or two people on their team that fall into this "perfectionist" category. Picture them in your mind for a minute. They have exceptionally strong discipline and organization skills. They capture every detail and pride themselves on never making a mistake. I spoke to one such perfectionist who said their nightmare was not showing up to school or work naked, but making a grammar mistake and everyone seeing it and laughing. This person was completely serious. Perfection in spelling and grammar was of utmost importance to them. This attention to detail can be a huge asset since you never have to worry about them going into a client with a less-than-thought-out plan, but you do have to worry that they spend so much time perfecting their plan that they never move the plan forward.
Limit the distractions.
So, how do you assist them? Before my daughter gets into my car, I turn off the radio, make sure things are set the way she likes, and I put my phone away. I limit her distractions. And I set a time-frame for our drive. If we have all afternoon, she will spend half of it “prepping." But if we have 30 minutes, she moves more quickly because she is a perfectionist about time as well.
Your direct reports will likely respond similarly. If you know that they are bothered by the noise in the bullpen, or distracted because a coworker is incapable of using their indoor voice, offer them a quiet space to work, maybe an unused conference room, or a desk away from the noise. If they get too caught up in the details and they take an hour to decide on the best font for a proposal, set a time limit. "I need to review this project at 4:00 this afternoon, or make sure you set the appointment with your client, so you have a firm deadline." Very organized people tend to like deadlines, so if they struggle to set that deadline with their perfectionism, help them.
Direct the focus.
My daughter still “colors in the lines” when she is driving. She makes sure she is right in the middle of the lane or the parking space, and don’t get me started on parallel parking. She likes her side mirrors pointed down so she can make sure she is perfectly in the lines.
So, how do her driving instructor and I help her? First, we take her focus off staring at the lines. We make her focus on her surroundings and the other cars and not on the lines. Help your direct reports to focus on the more important goals as well. What is their goal with the client, short and long term? Encourage them to have a valid business reason for each call and contracting with their client. Are they overly analytical? Talk their language and give them the facts and numbers. My daughter can (and does) quote crash statistics all day long. Disturbing? A little, but I never have to worry about her texting and driving.
Is teaching a 16-year-old perfectionist how to drive exhausting? Yes! But in the long run, her perfectionism allows me to trust her. I know she will drive safely and follow the rules. Your perfectionist can be a huge asset to your team. Give them the rules and let them steer.