Using Harrison Assessments to Avoid Perfectionism and Perfectionist Cultures

Ganga Harvey

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism and a drive to correct one’s own imperfections.

Perfectionism shows as a strong sense of control over what and how things are done, so that a perfect result can be achieved. The irony is that perfection is defined by the perfectionist and not by the business. To maintain their control, perfectionists tend to be critical and demanding of themselves and of others. They are generally rigid in behaviour. Perfectionists become frustrated and angry when things do not go to plan. They insist on their viewpoints, decisions and directions.

As a result, relationships with customers, staff and peers suffer. A little less obviously, the perfectionist’s work and outcomes are also compromised. A perfectionist will insist that their methods, experience, knowledge and reputation are the reasons for their success. However, they also are working without a wide range of input or checks from others.

Perfectionists will also avoid taking on projects and initiatives that they perceive to be too risky and unlikely to succeed. Their self-worth is bound up in external success and when things go wrong, their morale can suffer greatly. Businesses suffer. Perfectionism can have a negative business impact, especially on high performance and adaptive cultures such as Agile.

Identify Perfectionist Behaviours using Harrison Assessments

As users of Harrison Assessments, it is helpful to know the patterns to look for when recruiting and when coaching for development.

We discussed Perfectionist Cultures in our other article here. If you suspect that your organisation ticks the boxes for a perfectionist culture, there are a number of strategies to build a more sustainable and resilient culture. The first step is to modify recruitment practices to break the cycle of hiring like-minded people.

The first indicator of Perfectionism

When Wants Capable Leader and Precise are in the Life Themes or above a score of 9 there is a strong possibility of Perfectionist behaviour. If this is the case, tease out more information in interviews. Perfectionists do not often know or admit their perfectionism, so ask questions about relationships with past managers, their expectations of their manager, and their own management style. Check carefully with references too.

Other Indicators of Perfectionist Behaviour

There are a number of other patterns that you might notice. Not all of these will be present, but you are likely to notice several of the patterns. When present, each pattern will add weight to the first indicator.

Need for Acknowledgement: Wants Recognition is likely to be high (above 8.5).

High Expectations – Two or more of the “Wants” traits appear in the Life Themes and with scores above 8. The higher the scores and the more Wants traits in this range, the higher the likelihood of perfectionism. The expectations that these traits represent are unlikely to be met, and this leads to frustration and anger.

Strong Opinions – Dogmatism is often but not always present – high Certain and lower Open/Reflective.

Stressed Behaviour – Stressed Achievement is common – high Self Motivated and low Manages Stress Well. Also Relaxed is likely to be low.

Self-Concept – The person can be either Self-critical or strong Defensive patterns – Self Acceptance very high or quite low.

Low Tendency to Work with Others – In general the perfectionist will have lower preference fore involving others in their work, with a tendency to be directive or even ordering. So traits such as Warmth and Empathy, Collaborative, Team, Enlists Cooperation can often have lower preferences.

Avoids Failure – Often the perfectionist has a cautious attitude so Risking is low and Persistent can be high – this is Stubborn Persistence.

Inflexible – It is likely that you will notice a lower score on Flexible. In fact, there can be quite rigid behaviour overall in extreme cases; this will show as aggressive imbalances in the Leadership and Achievement columns of the Paradox report. You might also notice that Tolerance of Structure is higher than usual. In Management positions Tolerance of Structure is usually low, less than 4. A perfectionist can have a score higher than 5.

What Next?

Firstly, develop workforce and recruitment strategies that support more open and resilient cultures. Use Harrison Assessments to identify possible perfectionist behaviour in job applicants, individual staff, teams and the organisation.

If you have a Perfectionist Culture, then consider a carefully planned and managed Culture Change project. It is difficult to radically shift a perfectionist culture through occasional workshops and coaching. Part of the change project will be your workforce and recruitment strategies.

You might have individuals that you would like to support to move to a more inclusive and open working and management style. Individual coaching, supported by their manager, is an approach that is very successful. We work with our clients to bring the relevant paradoxical traits into balance – there are a few.  The mantras for any perfectionist individual are 80% good enough is good enough and I am not the smartest person in the room, therefore I will engage others in strategy, decision making and planning.

Further Reading

J. Clayton Lafferty and Lorraine F. Lafferty wrote in their book Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness that “Perfectionism is an illusion and its reality is unhappiness.”


Ganga Harvey consults and coaches in the areas of Leadership, Strategic Management and Change Management and has guided many organisations to significantly higher levels of performance. She is a Solutions Partner with Harrison Assessments, providing deep insights into your organisation.


Connect with me for more growth and change strategies.


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