Stop accepting excuses, start seeing results

Nobody loves an excuse. It’s even worse when it’s blatantly obvious that the task you assigned to one of your employees was completely overlooked, unprioritised, and left to the last minute, causing a bottleneck or customer dissatisfaction on the other end.

So, it comes as a surprise, then, to see that there are still business owners and managers that allow excuses to flourish in the workplace, which gives rise to an ‘excuse culture’.

What is an excuse culture and why does it develop?

An excuse culture, in its most basic form, is when a company culture has festered in which excuses become the go-to rationale for why things go wrong. These excuses are then perpetuated throughout the organisation because there are no structures in place to deal with the excuses and to prevent them from coming up again.

The biggest reason for the development of an excuse culture is often found in the way that these excuses are confronted and managed. If you realise that there is an excuse culture developing or already rooted in your company culture, you need a step-by-step approach to counteract the existing problem and establish a new culture where people are held accountable for the things that go wrong.

Step 1: Stop being accepting of excuses

Many excuse cultures could be halted at this first step. To talk of an excuse culture is to say that excuses have become manifest in the way that people behave. Changing the behaviour starts with a change in approach to the way that you deal with the problem that initiates the behaviour.

Too many managers and business owners say, “It’s okay” much too easily in the hope that the next time will be better and that the employee under their management will take it upon themselves to do better the next time. This casual approach will not lead to a productive, steady workforce, but rather cultivates the idea that any shortcomings will be glanced over.

Step 2: Define the problem

Before you address the excuse head on, be clear about what the problem is. Use simple, direct language, such as “You missed the deadline by a day”, “Your report was missing a few key details”, or “The client walked away feeling like they weren’t listened to”. Be clear about what went wrong.

Step 3: Declare your disappointment

As much as you should take a no-tolerance stance to repeated excuses, it’s best not to deal with excuses in a way that makes the employee attacked. Instead, the simple expression of disappointment can go a long way to letting your employee know that their actions have upset you.

Step 4: Explain the consequences

Usually, excuses are perpetuated in instances where employees are not sure of how their actions have affected others or the business. By explaining the consequences of their actions, you can show them that their excuse not only affects them as an individual employee, but also the collective group. Once they understand that their action has led to a break in production or has put other processes under strain, they will be more willing to correct their behaviour and actions going forward.

Step 5: Ask the necessary questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions surrounding the issue at hand. If, for instance, an employee says that they did not have enough time to complete their task, ask them when they started, how they prioritised their time, etc.

What you may find, more often than not, is that the excuse comes as a result of a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to problem-solving. By pointing out the ways in which the employee could have acted differently, you are indirectly also showing them that their excuse is inadequate and that they have the means to behave differently in the future.

Step 6: Define your future expectations

Once you’ve identified ways in which the problem can be avoided in the future, be sure to set clear expectations. If the excuse came as a result of something like poor time-management, for instance, be sure to give them the tools and encouragement to use their time better in the future.

As long as you make your employee understand what you expect, you will be better prepared to deal with something that comes up later. You will start to establish a culture where expectations are set and met, and where excuses are not tolerated.

Step 7: Monitor the situation and take corrective action if necessary

One excuse can be easily managed, but when an excuse comes again, it will be up to you to decide whether to escalate the approach to the excuse or to investigate further and determine all the details. It may be tricky to establish whether an excuse is part of a poor attitude, poor time management, or whether it is part of a greater problem.

It is best not to always assume that the employee is in the wrong when they use an excuse. Instead, take care to work through and correct any real problems. Some repeated excuses may be a sign of deeper-lying issues in your processes/production line.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, it must be understood that an excuse culture is good for no-one, especially not for productivity or profitability. If you need any assistance with your workplace culture correction, disciplinary issues that need to be addressed, or processes you wish to implement, be sure to contact us for the necessary legal expertise pertaining to your predicament.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)