Do workplaces focus too much on perfection?


During an episode of Celebrity Masterchef, I came across a curious phenomenon. The head chef said to the celebrity that each plate that he/she produce should be perfect, flawless and consistently the same. It then dawned on me, is this even possible in an environment that is hot, highly pressured and loud?   Having worked in probably too many organisations (I blame the recession), public, private and charities I have observed a trend, a trend that has really started to disturb me; this trend is the obsession of employers to expect their staff to be “perfect”.

To eliminate mistakes, consistently produce the same outcome, but improve and to strive for the best all of the time, is this achievable? As unpredictable as humans are and a constantly changing working environment with goal posts moving, is it realistic to expect perfection every day? Or should we allow employees to make and learn from their mistakes to enable them to grow and work in a supportive and comfortable environment?

I am no philosopher, but I do not think we can be perfect consistently and especially not in the workplace. Insisting on this is unrealistic in often confined, restricted employment environments with rigid job descriptions and archaic management structures. Focusing on perfect work I believe is not only destructive, can be short-sighted and highly counter-productive. Insistence on perfection can increase mistakes, increase anxiety, reduce productivity, decrease motivation and overall job satisfaction.

Instead, work places should endeavour to minimise and embrace mistakes. Allow employees to learn from and develop strategies to prevent mistakes harming the productivity and reputation of the organisation.

A theory of organisational learning by a couple of researchers Argyris and Schon (1978), double and single loop learning suggests that organisations should try and eliminate mistakes before they happen in order for them to grow and develop effectively. In eliminating mistakes before they happen, an organisation will have to use information learned from previous mistakes that have been made.

So organisations should:

  • Create an environment that is open and allows employees to make mistakes but have a forum to learn from them.
  • Empower staff and allow them to create new ideas and allow them to implement them.
  • Open communication channels to make it easier for employees to share concerns.
  • Make work environments less formal in order to make work less stressful
  • Praise staff when needed and  have development points for staff in 1-1s and appraisals
  • Give employees time to absorb tasks, new environments and new ways of doing things
I think if these things are done I believe staff will naturally begin to reduce mistakes and become more productive and happy.
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