Don't miss out on excellence by pursuing perfection

Excellence by pursuing perfection - Family business

Naveen Khajanchi, relates a story that he says affected him significantly in his own thinking about family life as well as family business.

Partner, Global Head of Family Business

KPMG in France


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Naveen Khajanchi, in his article 'Why Letting Go of the Quest for Perfection Can Mean Success', relates a story that he says affected him significantly in his own thinking about family life as well as family business. He recalls how his cousin, "a good-looking and incredibly talented man who was looked upon as an inspiration by the younger generation", came back to India after studying abroad and was keen to find a wife. The cousin agreed to an arranged marriage, and consequently was introduced to many prospective brides, but he turned them all down as unsuitable.

Their grandfather, hearing of this, took the cousin to Kumartoli in Kolkata, a place where craftsmen make clay deities.

My grandfather asked my cousin to describe to a craftsman the kind of bride he had in mind. The cousin was quite taken aback; he wanted a real bride after all, not a clay idol. To this, my grandfather replied that there is no perfect person on this earth. Instead of wasting time and energy on finding the “perfect” person, it would be in his best interest to seek someone who makes him happy.

The grandfather advised the cousin to drop his search for perfection and rather find a woman "who comes from a good family" and who can adjust to their "family's values and traditions".

Letting go of the idea of perfection

Khajanchi, after hearing about the incident, says that he realised how important it is to realise and accept that perfect people and perfect relationships don't exist and that one should instead take hold of the good and pursue excellence.

Khajanchi, who is an executive coach, author and family business advisor in the field of leadership, says that just like perfect people and relationships don't exist, perfect (family) business relationships and companies do not exist either. The important thing in one's work life is to chase after excellence, because "relinquishing the idea of perfection for excellence can serve as the key to effective relationship management," he says.

Create a company culture of excellence

Every business has a unique company culture, and to a very large degree that culture develops in the sphere of leadership and then trickles down to influence the rest of the staff. It is important therefore for the leadership of a family firm to set the tone in terms of what is expected from staff, what they should expect from themselves and each other, and what they should aspire to.

When employees feel that perfection is expected from them, they generally come under extreme strain and may feel many counterproductive emotions such as stress, resentment, failure and self-castigation. By contrast, the employee who feels that what is expected by management is his or her best is liberated to pursue an attainable goal. Feelings of motivation, achievement and more are possible in such a culture.

So how does one develop such a company culture?

For starters, the leader needs to model the right attitude in his or her own life. Whether at home or in family gatherings (since family firms of course include family members), or at the office, show others that you do not expect perfection from yourself. Then communicate that the same is true for them.

To make it genuine might take some work if you've been raised with or developed a mind-set that nothing less than perfection is good enough. It's a pervasive sort of mentality that generally takes time and effort to root out, but understanding how counterproductive it is will provide the motivation to do the hard inner work.

You might also try to change the sort of language that is used at home and within the family firm, eliminating the use of words like 'perfection' and 'flawlessness' and replacing them with 'excellence', 'outstanding', 'quality' and 'best'. The words we speak have great power to affect our thinking and reality, and a company culture that promotes a lexicon and way of thinking around excellence instead of perfection will fare that much better than one that is fixated on unattainable ideal. Internal mottos are also useful – why not brand your philosophy across the office space, or insert it as a slogan on internal stationery or the like. In essence, campaign for a company mind shift.

None of this means you're promoting laxity. Excellence is a very high standard. But when something doesn't go right yet staff gave of their best, be sure not to overlook the latter. Highlight individual and team growth and effort, not just achievement. Committing to this shift in thinking and company culture will reap very real rewards, so at the end of the day, let your staff know by whatever means is most apposite and effective in your particular industry and work environment that excellence is the goal, not perfection.

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