Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Culture of Excuses

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Is your company culture best described as a culture of excuses?

If so, then you need to think about why that's happening. Why are people making excuses? Why do they feel they need to? Why is that OK?

And then consider making "no excuses" one of your core values. Seriously.

Have you ever had a conversation with one of your employees or a colleague about some topic - be it customer experience, employee experience, strategy, or the business in general - a topic, perhaps, where you asked about its progress or why something was or wasn't being done? How did that conversation go? What were the responses to the questions? Did you hear what was being said? Were the responses satisfactory? Or did you feel like you were being put off? Were there excuses for why things weren't be done?

Is the standard response to that type of inquiry in your organization to explain it away or to cover up a known wrong?

Sadly, a culture of excuses is real.

Why do excuses become a thing? Why do people default to them? I think there are a few reasons this happens.
  • Don't know any differently: we've always done it that way; we've always made excuses (a self-perpetuating problem!); it's what we do.
  • CYA: cover your ass in order to avoid criticism or punishment or to avoid doing what needs to be done.
  • Fear of failure: if I don't do the thing that I'm afraid to do and just make an excuse instead, all will be fine.
  • Fear of recourse or lack of psychological safety: if I say or do what I'm supposed to, I'll be punished, chastised, fired, etc.
  • Fear of [fill in the blank]: fear is probably one of the biggest drivers of an excuse culture.
  • Lack of accountability: people need to take ownership and to be held accountable, but you can't just tell them they are accountable and leave it at that. Check in with them and offer help, praise, and encouragement.
  • Executive behavior, i.e., if they can make excuses, why can't I?
  • No clear vision: with a clearly-defined and clearly-communicated vision, employees can never say that they didn't know what was expected of them or what they should do/should've done.
  • Lack of training and development: if you properly train and develop employees, giving them the knowledge and the resources they need, they can't say that they didn't know what to do or how to do it?
  • Lack of clear expectations: when reasonable expectations are set and communicated, excuses should be minimal to zero.
  • Lack of leadership: leadership that puts employees' needs first, creates an environment of open and honest conversation (so people can ask questions or ask for help rather than make excuses), ensures that employees have the tools and resources to do what they've been tasked with,  communicates that no question is stupid, and ensures them that we all learn from mistakes.
  • Laziness: there is a percentage of people who make excuses who are just plain lazy.
How do we stop this cycle of excuses?

First, we have to acknowledge that it's a problem. That's the biggest step - being self-aware, i.e.,  knowing that you're making excuses, not simply giving valid reasons or explanations.

Second, executives must model and foster the right behavior. They need to be accountable and be held accountable. They need to do what it is they say they're going to do. They need to not make excuses.

Third, discuss and communicate. Talk about it. Don't let it be the elephant in the room. We all know it's happening. Acknowledge it and address it. If not, then it becomes acceptable by default.

And, fourth and probably most important, get to the root cause. Understand why people feel they need to make excuses. If I had to guess, fear would be the reason - but get to the root cause of that fear; otherwise, that's just an excuse, too.

Don't let your organization's culture become one where finding excuses overshadows finding a solution, making a decision, and taking real action. As I mentioned at the top of the article, consider making "no excuses," or something comparable, one of your core values. And give employees the guidance and the freedom to live that value.

Do you find yourself making excuses when you do not perform? Shed the excuses and face reality. Excuses are the loser's way out. They will mar your credibility and stunt your personal growth. -Alexander Pope

2 comments:

  1. Good post. I would add two things:

    Does your organization have realistic goals?

    Many times the issue isn't in the execution. It's setting objectives that aren't based on a solid business case. When folks are asked why they are missing objectives the response is perceived to be an excuse.

    Is your organization a safe place to give honest feedback?

    If folks are punished for providing honest input/feedback they will stop giving it. This could lead to providing feedback that is an excuse (or perceived to be an excuse).

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    Replies
    1. Thank you... two great additions. The second may also be covered above under "psychological safety," which applies to both input/feedback and actions taken.

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