Stop goldplating!

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Uncategorized

“I need to stop gold plating,” my coaching client told me.

I looked at her quizzically.

“You know, when you go above and beyond, over and over?” said my client, a senior account manager at an international organization who is responsible for a global brand. “I always make sure my work is beyond excellent, even when it doesn’t really matter.”

Not surprisingly, this client reached out to me because she felt tired, burned out and is thinking about doing something else with her life.

I had to pause our coaching session to look up “gold plating.” It’s a project management term: “the phenomenon of working on a project or task past the point of diminishing returns,” according to Wikipedia.

For example, after having met the requirements, the project manager or the developer works on further enhancing the product, thinking the customer will be delighted to see additional or polished features, rather than what was asked for or expected, Wikipedia says.

“That’s me,” my client agreed when I showed her the definition. “I don’t even know why I do it.”

“I bet you were a good student back in school,” I guessed.

“Oh yeah, straight A’s all the way,” she concurred.

She reminded me of a grown-up version of the girls described in Dr. Lisa Damour’s “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls,” a book you should read if you have a girl, have been a girl, know any girls or know anyone who used to be a girl.

“We accept that girls will not only do all that we ask of them (academically), but that they’ll often exceed our expectations,” Damour writes. “When we allow our daughters to persistently overexert themselves, they develop tons of confidence in their work ethic and none in their talents.”

“Hard-driving, perfectionistic girls … never find out what they can do if they hardly try because they never hardly try!” she writes. “Even as they ring up one success after another, girls may attribute their achievements to the only thing they’ve ever known, their incredible self-discipline and willingness to overprepare.”

Sound familiar at all? That’s not great prep for a dynamic, competitive workplace and the marathon of a career.

“What if you stopped gold plating?” I asked my client. “What would that look like?”

“I don’t think anyone would even notice,” she laughed. “I could do B work and still knock it out of the park.”

We talked about how she could be more energy efficient at work — not how she could “work smarter” (a term that has always annoyed me), but how to decide where to apply herself and where she could “hardly try.”

“Under Pressure” has a section called “Moving from Grind to Tactician” that is as relevant for middle school and high school girls as it is for my midcareer client.

“So how can you be tactical about your success?” I asked.

“For the stuff that doesn’t matter,” she joked as we talked about limiting international travel and face time in the office. “I’m going to embrace my inner C– student!”

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.