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Excuses, Excuses....How to Deal
With the Bane of a Manager's Life

Sometimes, you're forced to make tough calls regarding the people who report to you. Can you help them keep their jobs without losing yours?

by T.T. Mitchell

If youíre a manager, youíve heard some of these:

ďIím sorry I was late, but,ÖĒ
ďIím afraid that I didnít finish,ÖĒ
ďI donít remember you saying that.Ē
ďI didnít think you wanted me to do it anymore because,ÖĒ

Excuses, excuses. Every single manager or director or supervisor at some point has heard something like this, if not exactly these types of phrases. Excuses are what makes the world go around.

Without excuses, everything would get done on time, there wouldnít be any reason for productivity standards or any other office rules. Without excuses, there wouldnít be any issues regarding harassment, discrimination, or just basic rudeness. Without excuses,Ö well, you get the picture.

Sure, no one is perfect, and we all have an excuse every once in awhile. There are times when you probably donít need an excuse because you know whatís occurring in general (i.e., in central New York, snowstorms). There are times when excuses are legitimate and unknown, such as a death in the family, a car accident, or the illness of a loved one.

But overall, you hate when someone comes to you with an excuse. You hate having to deal with tardiness, or too many sick calls. You hate when people donít make deadlines. You hate when people make too many errors and donít seem accountable for their duties.

You hate that it all falls on your shoulders to have to make the tough call as to what to do all the time because you feel that just as you do things correctly, so everyone else should also.

Letís tackle some of these things one at a time, starting with the last one.

Keeping perspective

If youíre in a supervisory position of some kind, you probably have a little bit more leeway than the employees who report to you in at least some things. Sure, you have deadlines to make, just like everyone else, but you have some benefits your employees donít.

If youíre salaried, you probably can take a longer lunch every once in awhile. You can probably take a longer break here and there. When you go to talk to another supervisor or manager, you can spend some time talking about frivolous issues without worrying about someone coming up to you and asking you why youíre not working.

You do have more pressure because youíre accountable for the work your employees do, or donít do, but you also have more freedoms. And, since you allowed yourself to be promoted, you should be holding yourself to a higher standard than your employees.

That doesnít mean you should let your employees get away with murder; it just means you should view your situation in a different light than you view that of those who report to you.


Second, letís take a look at tardiness. This seems to be one of the biggest complaints Iíve heard about employees.

As I said earlier, everyone has their day. However, some employees do seem to violate this more often than others. As a manager, itís up to you to at least talk to the person to discover whether thereís an issue this employee canít overcome or whether they are just unreliable.

If they have difficulties getting to work because of their children (such as having to wait for them to get onto the bus before leaving for work), maybe you can find a way to flex their time so that they can take care of their familial obligations. I fully understand wanting to treat everyone the same in all circumstances, but sometimes, if you value the employee, you need to find a way to work with them so they can follow the rules.

I actually had this specific issue; one of my employee's children had his bus-pick up time changed when the new school year began, and suddenly she was 10 minutes late every day. Once I found out what the issue was, I decided to institute a flex-time policy, as I had one other person in the department with a child.

I set up a time range, then I had the employees have their own meeting to determine who would show up when, and who would work until when. The only rule I had was that the office had to be staffed between 8 and 4, which was the stated office hours.

They came up with something workable, no one could say I was playing favorites, and everyone was happy. And this employee was back within time limits, and I never had to write her up for tardiness.

Not completing tasks

The first is that you didnít make sure the employees knew what was expected of them, or didnít make sure they understood you. The second is that the time frame was unreasonable, and no allowances were made for outside obstacles. The third is that the employee was incapable of the task just because they werenít up to the department standards.

Letís talk about each of these briefly:

Rule #1: Itís always up to you, the manager, to make sure those who work for you understand exactly what you expect of them.

If you say ďthey should knowĒ and youíve never told them, no matter how reasonable you feel you are, youíre fighting a losing battle. Unless youíve worked with every person in your office for 25 years so that you definitely know each others habits, you need to verify and verify and verify.

Sure, it seems tedious, but you have to ask yourself if youíre looking to get things right or not. When all is said and done, youíre the one whoís going to be asked by upper management why things arenít going right.

How do you do all of this? One, you could write it out. Two, you could ask them to repeat back to you what you said. Three, you could have regular meetings with your employees so that they can get to know you better, you get to know them better, and you then have a better understanding of what they need from you to get things accomplished correctly.

Rule #2: As a manager, you need to know whether your expectations for certain tasks are reasonable or not, as well as whether there are factors which could change the time frame.

For instance, if you have a time sensitive project and youíve given it to a person whose main duties are talking to customers on the phone, youíve set this person up to fail. Or if you give extra work to the one person in the office you feel is capable of handling it, then that person calls in sick and no one else picks up the slack, you might not have a certain project completed.

Work has to be as balanced as possible, and you have to plan for contingencies. You canít expect unrealistic results from an uneven playing field. In todayís working environment, you canít expect to be able to push people unreasonably all the time; they just arenít going to respond to it as they might have in the past.

Rule #3: Don't carry someone who's holding down the department!

All managers are guilty of this at some point. Iíve done it myself, though Iíve been lucky that it happened rarely.

Letís face a truth; we all know who our weak links are. Thereís a commercial on right now where this guy says he fakes busy so well that everyone thinks heís the most important person in the department. In the real world, though, numbers donít lie.

What happens, though, is that sometimes we get too close to a person emotionally for one reason or another. We allow the excuses because someone may really be getting sick, or having family issues, or a myriad of other things. Sometimes we can get by because the rest of the team is holding up, and if you can deal with that, then fine.

However, if you canít, you have to be willing and ready to talk to this person, help them raise their work performance, monitor them with their knowledge, and, if all else fails, let them go, or move them elsewhere.

In my case, I inherited one long time employee who, because of increasing physical issues, wasnít able to keep up with others on the team. I believe in loyalty, even if it wasnít directly to me, so I refused to let this employee go. Instead, I moved her to a different department where speed wasnít as important as courtesy and accuracy, and she thrived at the new position. Customers loved working with her, she was less stressed because of the change in the duties, and everything was fine with the world.

Everyone has an excuse every once in awhile. They should be allowed, if kept to a minimum; after all, weíre only human.

But you have to be ready to not only look at the person, but the situation, if your issues are recurring. Donít let the excuses cause you to have to make excuses to someone else later.

T.T. "Mitch" Mitchell of T. T. Mitchell Consulting specializes in helping companies produce more effective and satisfied employees at all levels, as well as helping individuals be better and more content in their professional and personal lives. He concentrates especially on management, leadership and diversity. Read about and subscribe to his two newsletters - on management and healthcare business issues respectively - here.

Some Related Articles:

Explain Yourself! The Reason Why Excuses Sabotage Your Success
Let's Get Real: The Case for Being Consciously Authentic
Three Basic Rules for Management Communication
Conversations can be the Key to a Manager's Success
A Winning Way to Handle Ideas in the Workplace

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