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10 ways L&D perfectionists can avoid self-sabotage


Being the best doesn't always work out. Sometimes being good enough is the thing that will make your training efforts have the biggest impact on learners – and the bottom line.

30th Mar 2022
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In L&D, trends come and go. Our focus may change from year to year. Methods swing in and out of fashion. But some things remain constant… like the need to demonstrate return on investment.

Training takes time and money and it’s only reasonable that organisations want to make sure they’re investing wisely. And that can put pressure on L&D to deliver a perfect solution. So when trends like agility, collaboration and innovation become the driving forces of L&D, practitioners are perhaps filled with just a little bit of fear alongside the excitement of the challenge.

Why? Because agility means solutions have to be delivered fast not flawlessly. Collaboration often means compromise, and losing control and innovation means untested and unproven. And that is scary when you’re under pressure to deliver something that is guaranteed to work.

But successful doesn’t mean perfect. Perfect in one area often means imperfect in another

Perfection: The ultimate saboteur? 

But successful doesn’t mean perfect. Perfect in one area often means imperfect in another. You have probably come across the sign that says: QUICK – QUALITY – CHEAP. Pick any two: If you want high quality quickly it won’t be cheap; if you want high quality cheap, it won’t be quick; if you want it quickly and cheap, it won’t be high quality.

Yet, L&D so often tries to be the exception to this rule, and it’s possible that some professionals sabotage themselves by seeking perfection whilst the opportune moment for having real impact is lost.

It’s understandable. There are so many stakeholders to satisfy in so many (often opposing) ways. Add in the personal pride and it’s easy to see how easy it is to get caught in the perfectionism trap. So we need to focus on what truly matters. It’s time to get comfortable with the idea that ‘good enough’ is often good enough.

Why good enough is good enough

Good enough means that the solution works. It meets the identified needs of participants and achieves the outcomes the organisation wants. 

It doesn't mean worrying about every word, every picture, font choice and graphic alignment.

Obviously visuals matter. If resource look amateurish, it won’t fill participants with confidence about the quality of the content. Similarly, if your work is littered with spelling mistakes it looks unprofessional. But I can assure you that 99% of people won’t read any meaning into the pictures you’ve chosen, or mind if the odd word is misspelled.

Similarly, we can spend days re-writing things, but no facilitator is going to read the session notes word for word when running a workshop, so generally, specific words don’t matter in the same way they do in marketing materials. Don’t get too hung up on words.

Another aspect that can take a disproportionate amount of time is things like layout, transitions and finishing touches. If the content is clear, easy to follow and works, that’s all that really matters. I hate to break it to you, but most L&D solutions are disposable, so functionality is by far the most important thing.

Having clarity about your aim is essential. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by related or supplementary objectives

Why we need to let go

Striving for perfection may mean that the solution is delivered too late to have real impact, or be over-budget. Both will call into question the validity of the L&D department, and do far more harm than good.  And of course, trying to be perfect is likely to lead to over-work and stress! There are no winners.

So it’s a fine line… especially for practitioners who are tasked with delivering solutions quickly, cheaply and to the highest standard. But it’s perhaps time to embrace agility and accept that we can’t please ALL the people ALL the time. We have to share responsibility for success with participants AND other stakeholders. To accept that good enough is usually good enough.

I work with other L&D professionals to design learning solutions that gets the balance between speed, quality and cost as good as it can be, and here are 10 practical tips that will help practitioners to deliver a quality (if not perfect) solution.

1. Focus on the end result

Having clarity about your aim is essential. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by related or supplementary objectives.

2. Identify and liaise with a single point of contact

They in turn can liaise with as many stakeholders as they like, but you don’t keep going round in circles.

3. Avoid scope creep

Make a plan that is signed off before you start the detailed design process. This keeps everyone aligned and stops scope creep.

4. Use the 80/20 Rule

20% of the content that you could include will give you 80% of the results. If you focus, you’ll get 80% of your design done in 20% of the timescale. Be disciplined.

5. Remember that function trumps form

What really matters is that the training brings about a change. The challenge should come from the learning not from accessing the content. That said…

6. Get the basics right!

Training has to be relevant, appropriate, applicable, correct and engaging. A well-designed workshop/course will deliver results even if the finishing touches are a little simplistic.

7. Delegate or outsource where you can

If you simply can’t let something out there that isn’t brilliant, engage a specialist. Whether its graphic design, animation, videography or programming, utilising a specialist means you can still operate at speed and focus on driving results.

8. Embrace Design Thinking and iterate as you go

Release something that you think is 80% complete (see point 4) but do so as a pilot. It may be closer to perfect than you think, plus people are honoured to be involved in improving something. 

The perfect solution is one that allows people to make the desired change, or achieve specific objectives in a timely manner

9. Get a second pair of eyes

You see what you expect to see, so asking someone else to look at your solution will help you identify the elements that DO need improvement, rather than looking for tiny errors. 

10. Signpost and share!

Signpost other resources (even external ones), to encourage people to share responsibility for learning. It also gives you one less thing to create, thus saving you time.

Remember that your solution is a means to an end. What really matters is what it does. What it enables people to achieve. The perfect solution is one that allows people to make the desired change, or achieve specific objectives in a timely manner: Not necessarily the prettiest, the most technically innovative or even most popular. So get comfortable with good enough – because your idea of good enough, is probably everyone else’s definition of perfect.

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