Projects miss deadlines. People show up late (or not at all). Customer complaints keep coming in.
You try to fix the problems, but every time you talk to your employees, you get the same type of response – excuses. Not reasons, not explanations. Just lists of justifications for why what happened was no one’s fault. Traffic, weather, illness, the sales cycle, the economy…whatever.
What can you do? It may seem like an impossible task, but it is possible to break through the double talk to get to reasonable solutions. Here are a few tips.
Don’t Say “That’s OK” If You Don’t Mean It
Normal politeness and force of habit. These can cause you to let someone off the hook even if they don’t deserve it. Employees might mistake your reluctant, begrudging acceptance as approval, which in turn might encourage bad behavior to continue. Don’t let that happen.
If someone texts they feel sick and will be late for the fourth time this month, don’t text back “OK.” You might mean “OK” as in “I have received the message” but they might take it as “OK, I approve of your lateness.”
Instead text back something like “Ted will cover your work this morning, but this is becoming a problem.” It will let the employee know their behavior is unacceptable.
Investigate the Situation
Excuses like “the economy” or “changing tastes” for missing a sales goal can sound reasonable, but those phrases are too broad to mean anything. Press for more information. Your employees may be right, in a general way. But you need more data to make meaningful changes.
If someone gives you a vague reason for something going wrong, investigate further. Find out exactly what is going on.
Not only will this lead to better solutions, it will let excuse-prone employees know you’re not going to let them get away with ill-defined explanations. That, on its own, might lower the chances you’ll hear excuses in the future.
Solve the Problem
Any time performance comes up short, your thoughts should eventually turn to “next time.” An excuse is one thing. Having the same excuse pop up again and again, is much worse. As much as possible, look to eliminate the availability of excuses by solving the problems or setting up a policy for the next time they happen.
We’ve been referring to “excuses” here a lot. That implies there’s something phony about the explanations your employees are giving for not achieving goals. That’s not always the case. Sometimes the explanations stem from legitimate issues that need to be solved. Things like “our internet speeds are too slow” or “we don’t have enough inventory in stock for these orders” are all real problems that have solutions.
If you’re hearing a lot of excuses, your oversight system might need tweaking. Your procedures might rely too heavily on a top-down approach. Employees are only working to keep you happy – productivity targets and sales goals are your problem. Their problem is getting past you.
A system with more direct incentives can make excuses obsolete. If there are clear rewards for hitting project deadlines, employees will find ways to do it.
Another way to eliminate excuses: have the best employees. Top-notch workers are easy to motivate and easy to manage. Having a great recruitment partner helps you get this kind of employee.
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