Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Excuses, Excuses!

You’re a manager and you’ve asked a member of your team to do a job. You’ve told him what the job involves, and you’ve given him the timeframe it needs to be done in. He agrees to do the job, says he understands what the job entails, and promises to deliver it in the required timeframe. You walk away confident that this job is in good hands, and will be done well and on time. You feel comfortable that you can move on to other critical people and items you are responsible for within and outside of your team. 

You hear nothing from this person, and assume all is going well (Your first mistake! Never assume!). You periodically check in with the owner of this job, and he tells you that while the job is going well, he is seeing problems in one area, but that you don’t need to worry about it; everything is under control (another warning sign!). Then you hear from others about some other problems this person has mentioned to them that make you question what you heard directly from him. So you go back to him and check again. Now he starts to tell you about more problems and gives excuses about why it’s not his fault, or about how he’s not getting what he needs from someone else, or myriad other excuses. The excuses start to grow, but you hear about them only when you approach this person (not the other way around).

Then he misses a critical milestone, and when you ask why, he gives you excuses and more excuses. Some sound reasonable; others do not. When you dig deeper, you learn that he has been having problems all along and seems to be in way over his head. When you confront him, the number of excuses rapidly cascade even more, with blame placed on everything and everyone but himself. He admits he’s in deep trouble, but that it isn’t his fault! (Waa!) So much for promises, and say goodbye to delivery! [See Promises and Delivery] If you were aware of the problems from the outset, corrective action would have been possible (e.g. involving others with more direct experience). However, since the problems were hidden from your view (were they really?), the situation has now reached a critical point. His actions are disruptive to your organization, likely to other organizations, to the point where the overall project may now be in jeopardy! 

What can you do to prevent such situations?

First, acknowledge the problems in yourself. 

You assumed that this person knew what he was doing and that he could be trusted to carry out what he said he would (and we all know that when you ass/u/me, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’!). [See Trust Me, I’m Not Like the Others!

In addition, you didn’t stay on top of this person or his project, and allowed yourself to be surprised by his lack of progress, even while receiving an ever growing stream of excuses. 

Who has the bigger problem here, the incompetent boob who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or the manager who blindly accepts without question everything he’s told by that incompetent boob? Recognizing that you have a problem can be the first step on the road to recovery. There is an old saying from Ronald Reagan of “Trust, but verify!” that is applicable here. You want to give people the ability to grow and excel, but doing so blindly without staying on top of things and recognizing what is really going on is following a path to potential disaster.

Acknowledge the problems of this team member (and likely others). Depending on the experience and track record of the people under you, you may want to give some more latitude than others, but in all cases you need to stay on top of the situation with every member of your team, and with the team as a whole. By understanding their issues as they encounter them, you can provide advice or help that can prevent small problems from becoming large ones. This can also help newer employees learn the right ways to do their jobs most effectively without becoming overwhelmed by them.

Ideally, you want to build a team where team members work well with each other, and build off and upon each other to create results that are more than the sum of the efforts of each. This can become an exciting and stimulating environment to work in, and, if done right, a team that exhibits such synergy can create and do things that are nothing short of astounding! [See Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!] You want a team where every team member says what he means, means what he says, and does what he says he’ll do! [See Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say You’ll Do!]

Excuses are the faults in the wall, or the chinks in the armor, which undermine the success of the individual and the team. Some excuses may be unavoidable, but those should include only things totally outside of the control of the individual or the team (e.g. a family emergency, a company upheaval, etc.). Most other excuses should not be acceptable or tolerated, and the team members need to know that. You must be aware of potential problems before they become real problems, and hiding such problems is unacceptable. Identifying potential problems with workable solutions is acceptable, but simply making excuses is not! Build an environment where problems are discussed and properly resolved early and often, and where excuses just don’t cut it!

Copyright 2012 Workplace Insanity, All Rights Reserved


  1. During basic training, United States Air Force Academy Basic Cadets choose their responses from only these seven phrases: Yes, No, No excuse, May I ask a question? May I make a statement? I do not know, or I do not understand. Learning not to make excuses is an important part of their character training.

  2. Hi Lee - Great comment illustrating an organization that gets it and instills the proper attitude and approach in its cadets!

    Thanks - Tom


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