In praise of control-freakery

Jul 12 2006 by Mark Fry Print This Article

If you're the sort of boss who gets accused of being a bit of a control freak, well done. Stand up, take the applause and be proud of yourself. It's time to come out of the closet and stop apologising.

We should celebrate the important role perfectionism or control freakery (depending on where you stand on this issue) has on a business.

Most of the best businesses have people in senior positions who aren't afraid to be labeled control freaks. In fact, restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, who is notoriously fussy with incredible attention to detail, would almost certainly revel in the description.

But show me a failing business and it's a fair bet you won't find a control freak with any managerial influence.

As an insolvency practitioner of many years standing, I have seen at close quarters thousands of companies that, to make no bones about it, are frighteningly badly run.

But I can't believe that most entrepreneurs deliberately or cynically set up a firm that settles for only average performance. These driven individuals are rarely motivated by an 'it'll do' approach. In fact, it's quite the opposite. They strive to outperform their rivals. Their companies are launched in a wave of optimism hoping to create a business that is clearly going to be the best in its market.

But even well run firms can, over time, lose their life force. In the early years, the management are actively involved on a day to day basis with the firm, and spend long hours in the workplace, hands firmly on the tiller, where nothing is missed and attention to detail is immaculate.

But as time marches on, the management can start to rest on its laurels. By about five or so years down the road, it is not uncommon that the senior director starts to feel that he does not have to turn up everyday. Pretty soon he's planning a regular four day week.

Companies should foster and protect staff at all levels who have perfectionist instincts

An air of malaise then creeps into the company and because the control freak is absent from daily operations demanding that standards are maintained, the firm's service begins its slow and inevitable roll downhill.

All this is why companies should foster and protect staff at all levels who have perfectionist instincts. We all know that the culture of the playground, where the eager to learn and succeed are mistreated by their peers, can all too frequently also be carried into the workplace.

Just as school teachers try and stamp out bullying, it's your role as MD to look after your control freaks, especially younger ones who might otherwise be lured to the dark side by lazier colleagues.

If you don't create barriers, the staff members with most natural good habits will start to lose them. Pretty soon rather than running a top operation with high standards, your company will be as average as the competitors you set out to knock into a cocked hat.

You must be seen by all your staff to reward perfectionists with regular public praise and thanks. Also, by promoting those with the most perfectionist instincts you are indeed drumming home your point. The underlying message must be your advocacy of high quality standards, and your rejection of sloppiness or quick fixes, which spell death by a thousand cuts to a growing business.

As boss, of course it's up to you to be the chief perfectionist with the most control freak instincts. My hunch is that there are many employees who would be much happier working for you as a control freak. It may go a little against received wisdom but in my experience most employees like to take a strong pride in their work.

They like working for firms known for their excellence, and that they can tell friends and family about their work place with a sense of proprietorship.

And let's be clear about this, they like a tough boss who won't allow colleagues to get away with shoddy attitudes or work and is prepared to ball out anyone who is trying to cut corners.

Being a control freak or perfectionist is never an easy role. It means constant diligence and a willingness to confront those who are letting the side down.

But how much more satisfying to run a firm that is brilliant at what it does. Where staff have a passion for the place and want to be pushed to be even better. And if it needs a control freak or perfectionist to keep it on the rails, then let's stop attacking these very special people and start offering them our support. We need them more than we realise.


About The Author

Mark Fry
Mark Fry

Mark Fry is South East Managing partner at corporate recovery experts Begbies Traynor Group plc. He works with financially troubled businesses, including managing corporate turnaround assignments.

Older Comments

'the eager to learn and succeed are mistreated by their peers'. This attitude starts at school age when someone striving for good grades is labelled a 'nerd'. At 45 years of age I can finally revel in my perfectionism and control freakery. Thank you.

Shelley Laverty

Unfortunately, most of the time these people do not see their own flaws and therefore they are bully. NOT PERFECTIONIST. Can't you imagine a boss who could identify an extra space in your report and yet he has an obvious spelling error in his report.