Dear Manager,

With this month’s issue I’d like to try to tackle something that’s bedeviled me for many years. While I’ve made progress, I’ve never been fully satisfied with its current state, and perhaps never will. The battle continues.

I believe most of us hold a high standard of “professional performance” for ourselves and for those with whom we come in contact. Certainly this has paved the way for our current success. What some call high standards, others see as being a “perfectionist.” Duty is in the eye of the beholder.

I learned years ago that within the context of our greatest strength are elements holding equal potential to exhibit our greatest weakness. This weakness is found in the potential for excess. Similar to the “candy bar” phenomenon, if one bar tastes good, just imagine how much better two must taste! Over a period of time, as we continue to escalate our standards of productivity both personally and organizationally, there may not be enough candy bars in the pantry to satisfy that sweet tooth.

Personal Perfection

In a practical world, the reality of perfection exists only in our dreams. I made this most difficult realization a number of years ago. Each of my days was begun with a very high degree of anticipation for fulfilling or exceeding my expectations, not only for the day, but also for the month and year. When I got close to my goals, I’d raise the bar, for surely my expectations were too low. I must have underestimated my own potential. It finally dawned on me that, “This is never going to be achieved on an ongoing basis!”

Along with my perfectionist’s dream world came the reality of heightened frustration. I’d consistently head home feeling as if each day had failed to meet my high standards. If this sounds familiar, proceed. If not, I greatly admire you and you can now skip to the next section.

My resolution to adjust came with the understanding and acceptance that I simply couldn’t move forward with this rigid perspective because it was based on a fallacy. What I also realized was that these high standards, effectively monitored, can also be a great advantage. By sustaining high goals, even with their predestined failure, I’d provided the foundation for what success I’d already achieved. Certainly we can all lower the bar – not the candy bar – of expectations, achieving our objectives by noon, just in time for a round of golf.

By holding a high standard, my 80% fulfillment effectively made me that much more productive. Rather than lowering my expectations, I created a new approach, almost like a game or competition with myself, to see just how much I could accomplish. As with any competition, some days I’d win, some days I wouldn’t. The personal challenge became the motivation, win or lose.

I’ve always felt most productive when my plate is full. It’s amazing how easy it is to putter through a slow day, accomplishing very little. Optimum performance can only be achieved with a full and challenging schedule. This is when I developed the rhythms of my day, finding the most fulfillment. While the “unexpected encounter” always loomed, on balance I’d finally found the vehicle that met my expectations.

Now, rather than pressure, I enjoyed the contest because it was a competition I couldn’t lose. Fulfillment came much more often, while still maintaining similar expectations; they’d just become more productive. If our own professional perfection can’t exist, at least on this scale, we can easily surmise that it can’t exist in our expectation of others. With perfection out the window, then, what can we ask our team members to strive for?

Peak Performance

Defining the “best performance” of others would certainly be considered very subjective. I’ll never forget hiring an additional person to provide support for my “finely tuned machine” of a data entry department. Within days, this new individual had literally revolutionized my perception of peak performance in her area of expertise. By month’s end, I’d reduced staffing in this department making this individual my shining star. Ten years later, even after my company’s significant growth, this individual continued to control a huge percentage of this vital function, just as she continues to do for my former agency. Thanks Traci.

As managers, we can never completely understand or assimilate peak performance until it’s become fully exhibited, comprehended, and established. Time and again I’d find myself astonished by a salesperson’s performance when I was convinced they couldn’t effectively compete with their predecessor (to include my own former sales territory!) This single reality suggested to me as a manager: never underestimate, never accept a standard of anything less than the potential available only in peak performance.

Are we ever going to achieve peak performance across the lines of our organizational team? Probably not, but this shouldn’t diminish our vision with each hire, with each staff evaluation, of realistically establishing this standard as our legitimate goal.

Progress versus Perfection

There are secondary professional relationships where we have much less control over peak (let alone perfection) performance, because we don’t have a primary role in the ultimate outcome and the collective potential for growth. Examples would include a consultative relationship, a client, or a relationship with a vendor. In essence, a professional relationship that holds opportunity in some form.

Clearly we can’t hold these individuals to a standard consistent with those maintained for our staff. We simply aren’t “their boss.” I’ve maintained a number of these relationships over the years. While often very fulfilling – and sometimes less so – they too must maintain a minimum standard of performance that provides tangible value to all parties. This minimal standard can and should be quantified as progress.

You might be amazed at the number of business relationships that can’t sustain this basic standard of coexistence. This is the minimum standard! Management should walk away from any relationship that can’t support this reasonable objective. Progress is quantifiable; progress sustains interest, anticipation, and the potential for future growth. Anything less and realistically there’s no professional relationship to protect.

We can’t always sustain a standard of peak performance from all of those with whom we come in professional contact. We can expect a commitment to progress in each and every professional relationship we maintain, including the professional relationship we have with ourselves.

Personal Regards,


INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2012. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL/INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM