When I started this podcast, I predicted certain themes would come up often like pricing, people skills, leadership, business owner mindset, and cleaning efficiency. But I never saw the theme of overcoming fear emerging so often. In "Yeah, That's Fear", we explored the 3 Failure Diseases of Excusitis, Detailitis, and Procrastination. Go back and listen to that episode to refresh. Fear disguises itself in so many ways. Fear causes us to stop taking action or never start. I want to share a story in this episode from my friend James Hardy of the Carpet Guys. He is such an expert in floor cleaning and carpet & upholstery restoration that it's preventing him from scaling his business to the next level. This was me for years as a solo cleaner. First I'll share the story and then we'll unpack it. This will become part 4 of the Perfection Series, which includes "Excellence Vs. Perfection", "Accept the Uncertainty", and "Perfection is the Enemy". Each episode has covered different angles of how perfection crushes our productivity and growth. I encourage you to go back and re-listen to the previous 3 episodes as you have the opportunity.
Here's my James Hardy story! Jim apprenticed as a carpet cleaner at 17-years-old and moved into his own business soon after. We are the same age, so that's over 25 years in the trade. Malcolm Gladwell penned mastery of a skill after 10,000 hours of hands-on training in his book "Outliers". By that measure, Jim is far beyond at 50,000 hours of carpet, upholstery, and floor cleaning. Jim knows the science of floor cleaning better than anyone I know. He has a reputation in our area as the Cadillac of carpet, upholstery, and floor cleaning services. In fact, Jim does restoration cleaning which "restores" the carpet to its original condition. I've seen him work and he's truly an artist. A couple weeks ago, Jim asked me to breakfast at Sammy's Bullfrog Cafe. Backstory... In early 2020, I released "Apologize with Action". I was submitting a cleaning proposal to Sammy's at this time and also made an introduction to James Hardy. Sammy never hired our cleaning service, but he did hire Jim for carpet cleaning of the cafe every 6 months. I said yes to breakfast and asked him why the sudden invite. "I was out at Sammy's on Monday night and I just wanted to see how the carpets turned out. Would you come with me?"
I had to make a pit stop at the vacuum cleaner store and met Jim after. He was already surveying the carpets and shared this. "I moved all the tables off the carpet and cleaned it once like normal. But it was really dirty and I wasn't satisfied. So I ran the machine a second time. It looked good, but I know that the final presentation of the cleaned carpet doesn't set for 24 hours. I usually get out to as many jobs as possible the next day to do an inspection. I didn't really feel that good about this job Monday night going home and wanted to see it this morning. I felt weird coming here alone. Thanks for coming."
Teresa and I come into this cafe at least once per month and I see the condition of the cafe. I'm a cleaner! I notice! As Jim was relating his story and displaying his obvious fear of the carpets not turning out great, I was marveling at the carpets. I thought they looked amazing. I'm a cleaner and thought that. Jim wasn't convinced. His perspective was through a perfect 10 on the scale of restoring the carpet to brand new. He saw the blemishes and imperfections. I saw a beautiful carpet. He saw what he missed. I saw what he did. At the end of the meal, Jim paid the tab as a thank you for me accompanying him for breakfast and making him feel better. I thanked him this way. I said to the hostess after Jim paid. "Don't these carpets look amazing? This is the guy that does them for you." I pointed to Jim. The hostess smiled and then raved about how impressed she was with the carpets when she into work that morning. Jim's demeanor changed. As we walked outside, I shared this with Jim. "In my solo days, everything had to be to my standard and I was always afraid I would never be able to duplicate the cleaning. Who could ever be as perfect as me?" I patted Jim on the back. "Jim, your standards are too high. I'm not a carpet cleaner and I'm looking at your work with admiration. The hostess agrees. Even though you don't think they look perfect, opinions from others that matter believe you did a great job." Jim thanked me for the encouragement. He realized that he needed to release the grip he had on his control. Furthermore, I was in Sammy's the next morning for breakfast with my wife and had a chat with the owner. This is epic. Sammy said this to me. "Thank you for recommending James Hardy to us a few years ago. He does a great job." I then shared what happened the previous day with Sammy and our waitress. They were stunned that Jim wasn't pleased with his work. The waitress noticed right away when she walked in. The owner who pays Jim said this with a laugh. "Yeah, the carpets probably needed to be cleaned twice. They were dirty." I shared this with Jim via text after that interaction. Jim thanked me again for my encouragement. This really helped him to see the difference between excellence and perfection.
Let's break this down now. In part 1 of this perfection series, I defined perfection as trying to reach the quality that makes you (the cleaner happy) and excellence as the quality to make your customer happy. I've noticed that reaching a score of 8 out of 10 on the perfection scale is excellence. It's also the 80/20 Rule, where you can get 80% of the customer happiness on achieving 20% of the tasks. You can do a great job on the vital few to achieve a 80% customer happiness. To get from 8 to 10 requires you to go all in and crush the other 80% of the possible tasks. This is unachievable and unprofitable. Jim is so good at carpet cleaning that he perceives an 8 as poor quality. He is going for a 10 every time. It is causing him to clean the carpet twice sometimes and double check quality the next day. This may or may not be necessary, but can you see how it costs him time, money, and emotional energy? It's exhausting! In Jim's mind, he let down the customer because he didn't achieve a perfect 10. The customer sees the carpets through a totally different lens. They've been looking at the carpets all month. They were at a score of 2 or 4 or even 6 and Jim just improved them to an 8 or 9. This is as much as a 4x increase in quality. They are ecstatic! Consider this as well. Most cleaning companies are leaving jobs with a quality of 5. I know this because I've personally cleaned after other cleaners for close to 20 years and have seen what the customer had dealt with. This is also why they've been willing to pay more for my service and Jim's service. We clean with excellence and can provide 2 - 4x improvement in quality. That is excellence. How do we make the customer happy? Do that!
To all of my perfectionist friends out there, allow me to make the point this way. Let's talk about the Perfect 10. I have 2 examples from sports. The International Gymnastics Federation established the Olympic scoring points system from 0 to 10.000 in 1881. In the 115-year lifetime of this scoring system in gymnastics, only 6 women and 1 man ever accomplished a perfect 10. That's 7 out of thousands of floor routines in 115 years! The perfect game in baseball is just as rare. In the 146 years and 218,400 games of professional baseball played, there have been only 23 perfect games! That's 0.01% for professional baseball pitchers and similar for Olympic gymnasts. For more perspective, 0.5% of high school baseball players make it to the big leagues and as few as 1 in 500,000 gymnasts make it to the Olympics. This is staggering. Only the upper 0.5% of high school and college athletes ever make it to the highest stage. Of these experts, less than 0.01% ever reach perfection. There have been over 110 billion people to ever live on the earth and only 1 has ever achieved perfection. Are you hearing these statistics? Mr. and Mrs. Perfection, what makes you think you'll achieve perfection? You can't! Even if you were able to be the 1 in 1.1 gazillion that did, would it increase your happiness, productivity, usefulness, and profitability enough to be worth it? No! There is a law of diminishing returns that I studied in engineering. It aligns with the 80/20 Rule. You feel a great benefit for a certain portion of the effort. Any additional effort only adds small and incremental benefit. That small and incremental benefit is not profitable and it's certainly not scalable or sustainable.
Let's wrap this one up now. Perfectionism is part of the Failure Disease of Detailitis. It can also be a actual disease of the mind which we covered in part 2 of this series. In most cases, perfectionism in the form of Detailitis is rooted in a four-letter word. That word is FEAR. What fear is causing you to not let go? For me and Jim, it was the fear that the work wasn't good enough. But digging deeper, the fear was "could anybody else ever clean as good as I can"? Going one level deeper, the fear was either being afraid of scaling a company and failing due to quality or possibly growing a company through a team and succeeding. Yes, fear of failure and fear of success are real. I've struggled with both. But something magical happened this February and I shared it with Jim.
"Jim, I made the decision to grow the C3 Experience through a team of professionals working with ownership, excellence, and safety. We set a goal to go to Florida for a month as the reward and we achieved it. I put everything into these amazing people that I could before leaving for Florida knowing I selected people who aligned with the C3x core values. I had to trust them for a month while I was gone. I trained them to get to an excellence score of 8/10, not 10/10. Then I left for Florida with my family. Here's what I discovered. I left with my fist clenched tightly around the quality of the work and my control over what was being cleaned. I was a micromanager in every sense of the word. When I was gone for that month, I could not even lay eyes on any building. I had to trust the training I had put into these amazing C3 Team Members. Everyone showed up for work. I started hearing from customers that the cleaning was going great. They were happy. My grip loosened each week. When I got home, nothing broke. No one quit. No one fired us. I did quality inspections and most were still at 8 and above. I was able to point out a few things to improve in each building that were systematic. In other words, it was easy to notice which cleaning items that were important were not getting done or getting done well. This allowed me to view the business from a new vantage point. It surged my confidence to grow and scale with a team. I now had a system of inspecting the work less often, while maintaining an overall excellence score of 8. Every client was happy. Every team member felt no pressure and enjoyed their jobs. My tightly clenched fist was now open-palmed and it was time for the company to grow to serve more customers and provide more great jobs for the community."
My perfectionism was holding back the benefit to the community. That was a major eye-opener to me. Jim agreed. Coach Josh agreed. What about you? You've now been exposed to 4 podcast episodes on perfection and several others on fear. What are you afraid of? If you're a solo cleaner, I am NOT advocating that you grow a team. I'm simply saying that you can accomplish more with less. Just learn to achieve excellence over perfection. If you're a growing cleaning company, I am NOT advocating to lessen your standards. I'm saying that you need to assess what your customers want and over-deliver. This is excellence. This allows everyone to grow. This creates the Win-Win for the business and the customer. This is how business should be done.
Are you struggling with perfectionism? Would you like to talk to me about it? Feel free to book a free coaching call on the Smart Cleaning School website! While you're there, check out the Smart Cleaning Tribe. We are a family of cleaning company owners who connect every week via Zoom to brainstorm, solve problems, set goals, hold each other accountable, and support each other.
"Helping cleaning professionals make the impact they were meant to make."