Leading for Pace or Perfection?

A member of my team recently asked me this question:

“Should I be trying to get loads of small wins done as quickly as possible or be taking time to carefully get larger pieces of work right?”

In a small team working at pace, we’re looking to get a lot done in a week. But we also have high standards that we can’t afford to compromise on. What kind of productivity are we looking for as leaders? Especially in a time of increasing autonomy and flexibility for the workforce… Are we looking for high volume of work done or high quality of work done?

Quality or quantity is not a new question to ask. But it is exactly the question to be asking.

The answer of course is a paradoxical yes. Constantly asking ourselves whether we are working both efficiently and effectively can help us reach our productive best. Take this article for example, do I need to get it published or polished? Yes.

The Raffinato and the Rapido

In our in-house design studio has to ask this question all the time. We even learn the Italian words ‘raffinato’ and ‘rapido’ to colloquially communicate with Italian creatives whether a piece of work was to be ‘refined’ or ‘rapid’. Sometimes we don’t have time to pore over a task. Other times that deep, often creative attention is essential. This is a ‘raffinato’ job? Great. You need it ‘rapido’? No problem.

As a self-confessed perfectionist, it’s been a lifelong learning process for me to view working at pace not as a compromise on quality, but a realisation that what isn’t done doesn’t register on the quality scale at all. We can and should still aim for excellence in our work, our decision-making and our actions. But as a designer by training, I know too well the feeling of getting 95% of something done in an hour and spending another hour on the 5%. Bypassing the endless finessing to get 100% done beats time wasted striving for the elusive status of 100% perfect. (When couldn’t we find fault even in our best work?) 

It’s an interesting dynamic for leaders in small, rapidly growing teams and organisations. The work being done in the early stages of an organisation’s journey is pivotal to how the team grows and business evolves. Decisions need to be timely and relevant to propel the team into a sustainable business.