“The whole world is a conspiracy.”
It was my first experience as a manager. Mr. Excuse was part of my team. As soon as the deadlines approached, Mr. Excuse was ready with a new set of excuses.
I had just too much to do.
Mr. X did not cooperate with me and hence I could not prepare this document.
I believe that I was born to climb Mt. Everest. Can you assign this work to someone else?
I did not get a written email from you. So, I did not start the work.
This assignment is going to take long. So, I decided to de- prioritize it.
Requirements were not clear.
I had to leave early because my wife’s uncle’s son’s granddaughter was moving houses. And of course… I had to pitch in.
Etc., etc., etc.
Mr. Excuse had no dearth of reasons why his work was never done on time. Even the Delhi government’s odd-even scheme was not spared as an excuse for making him late for work. A part of me wanted to empathize with him for the nthe time. The other part wanted to yell at him and tell him he was not paid to give excuses but deliver results.
Why had he been sleeping till the last minute only to come and tell me it could not be done?
Because of this stupid person, I too am going to miss out on my promotion.
Are we working like the Planning Commission that he wanted an elaborate documentation before starting his work?
Does he think he is the only poor guy who has been chosen by the Almighty to be loaded with work?
I boiled with anger until steam practically poured out of my ears. I had a twin problem at hand; finding a way to get things done on an urgent basis and managing Mr. Excuse.
I found a way to create a culture of accountability and ownership in the team like this:
Tip# 1 Give him the benefit of doubt, but only once.
It is so important to first know if the person’s concern is really genuine or if he is simply taking advantage of your genuineness. If it is the former, give him the benefit and try to and a solution to his concern. If it is the latter, kick yourself for being too nice with this person on earlier occasions. You can give someone the benefit of doubt, but only once. Being too nice can be a problem, especially if the other person isn’t so.
Tip# 2 Ask probing questions. One of the most common excuses people make is to pass
the buck onto someone else.
Mr. X did not hand over the le on time. And so, I am delayed now.
Ask questions like: Did you follow up with Mr. x instead of patiently waiting for him to get back? If you did not receive the document on time, what action did you take?
Why did you not escalate the matter right then so that some corrective action could have been taken well in time?
One of my colleagues came from a bureaucratic organization where there were set processes for every small thing. When he joined us, he was confused about how he could move forward without proper documentation and with mere discussions taking place on a white board. It was only when I delved into his reason for giving excuses that I realized this and coached him for adapting to how things worked at our organization.
Asking the right questions does two things — first, it implicitly conveys your dissatisfaction and second, makes you figure out if the reason being given is really justified or a mere excuse. Delve deeper than just accepting anyone’s words at face value.
Tip# 3 Stop tolerating excuses and express dissatisfaction. Okay, so you figured out that the person was only taking
advantage of your kindness.
Stop tolerating the excuses right then and there. Express your dissatisfaction to him.
I had a member in my team who was ill practically every week. This impacted our timelines. But then how could someone fall ill every week and yet keep sharing weekend party pictures on Facebook? On one such post, I could not resist commenting, “Seems you are all set to now take on the world. How about some deliverables next week?”
A friend of mine works in a bank and had a month-end closing cycle where she was bombarded with work. The Mr. Excuse in her team would walk up to her and cite some or the other reason for taking leave around that time. Sometimes it was his wife’s relatives coming home, sometimes the kid’s exam and sometimes ‘personal’ work.
One ne day, my friend decided she could not take this anymore and told Mr. Excuse how she was really banking on him to deliver, and how his absence put extra pressure on everyone else in the team. She politely asked him to not schedule personal appointments around the month end.
unless you express dissatisfaction, do not simply assume the other person would fall in line. Tell the other person how his lack of ownership can impact his future ratings and the projects you can possibly assign to him. Cite examples of how some of his peers had been in similar situations and had managed to and their way through. Motivating through the examples of peers can set the expectation and put the message across.
Final Tip When Nothing Else Works: Mr. Excuse just figured out he had not been included in a critical project that he wanted to be a part of. He walked up to his boss to ask the reason. His boss gave him the excuse, ‘I did not want to overburden you. I see you are already overworked and missing deadlines.’