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Managing Employees

No Excuses!

July 9, 2013

MachineFloorAny parent knows the frustration of asking a child why he or she did something they don’t approve of and getting a lame excuse (quite often: “I don’t know”). How do we typically respond? By telling the child “That’s no excuse!” and insisting the behavior be corrected.

Yet, in the workplace many of us tend to be more accepting of employee excuses for missed deadlines, failure to communicate potential problems and other transgressions. In the name of harmony and, often because we have better things to do than argue, we nod, grind our teeth and let it slide.

The fact is, this sets a dangerous precedent and signals the employee that we won’t hold them accountable, so it’s OK to continue this behavior. As a result, our operation is not as productive as it should be, we get frustrated and at some point have it out with the employee who is, rightfully, shocked at the accusations.

So how do you deal with employees who consistently have excuses for poor performance? Here are some tips:

  1. Create an excuse-less culture. Communicate to everyone in your organization that excuses are simply unacceptable. When things go wrong, you’ll listen to reasonable explanations, but not excuses. Also make it clear that no one will be shot for admitting an honest mistake, and that the goal is to learn from this experience and move on.
  2. Provide specific deadlines. If an organization is running well, everyone involved is busy most of the time. Therefore it’s unwise to tell an employee to do something when they have time or when it’s convenient. Instead, establish a hard deadline – day and time – for any request, and make it clear that if the employee has any doubt about meeting the deadline, now is the time to discuss it. It’s quite possible that you may have to adjust the deadline or readjust priorities, but that’s all negotiable up front. Once you both agree, however, there is no excuse for missing the deadline.
  3. Establish consequences. To hold employees accountable you must first explain what is expected as well as the consequences of failing to meet those expectations. If you have a planned preventative maintenance program in place, for instance, the people responsible should know that they must follow the scheduled activities or you will take specific disciplinary action. They must understand the importance of their role, how it affects the entire operation and, if there is a reason why an activity can not be completed as scheduled, they should fully explain the circumstances to their supervisor as soon as possible.
  4. Drill down to uncover the facts. When an employee does fall short and explains the reasons, take nothing at face value. Ask questions to get to the core of the issue. For example, a customer order will be late because a machine broke down. Why did it break down? Was there an operator error? Has the machine been properly maintained? What steps did the employee take to fix the problem? Was the supervisor notified promptly so the customer could be contacted? By asking such questions and demanding in-depth answers, employees learn that they will be held responsible. Of course, if the operator is at fault, don’t attack or berate, rather express disappointment and, together, determine what steps should be taken to insure that the problem doesn’t happen again.

Taking these actions will require an investment of time on your part, but the payoff is an organization that spends its time getting things done as promised, not thinking up with excuses.