I have to admit right off the bat that I have made excuses in the past, some legitimate, some more for the purpose of covering my own – well – you know. And as a people-pleaser (can you say “enabler?”) I have often accepted the excuses of others for shortcomings, mistakes or outright failures more often than not.
It’s a hard habit to break: this making of excuses.
As an analytical person, I like to know the “why” behind tings that work and things that don’t, it’s how you learn. But excuses are a “why” that don’t help you. If you failed to act or procrastinated, you already know you procrastinated — there is nothing more to learn from the excuse. If you screwed up, making an honest or even not so honest “mistake” then you already know that, too.
Excuses aren’t helpful, they’re diversions. But I think one of the reasons we accept them from ourselves and others is that we believe that if we don’t make or permit other people to make excuses, we must then always implement consequences. Because when we make excuses, we aren’t really dealing with the issue at hand, we’re just hoping to avoid negative consequences.
As a business owner or leader, establishing an environment where you neither make nor accept excuses could be one of the most important things you can do to create a healthy, productive and happy employee culture. But the only way that it works is if you make it safe for people to make mistakes (occasionally) or even fail (from time to time). This is not to say that there aren’t egregious errors that merit consequences or that you may even have people who are not in jobs suited to their personalities and skills, and who should be moved or even removed.
Employees engaged in C-Y-A won’t be creative problems solvers, innovators or risk takers. Employees who fear punishment, berating or other negative consequences will expend their energies not in pursuit of excellence; instead, they’ll pursue the status quo. And the damage doesn’t stop there, either. Because employees who do regularly excel and rarely make excuses will become discouraged as they observe that their less-engaged co-workers are regularly excused for mistakes, failures and even misconduct. Your employee culture will suffer, all the way around.
Safety and freedom from fear — an environment in which it’s “safe” to make the occasional mistake or even fail, for employees who generally are positive, productive contributors in your work place, is deserved. What’s more, this type of behavior on your part as a leader is likely to go a long way toward building not only a productive and happy employee culture, but a loyal one, comprised of individuals who then commit themselves to doing even better in the future than they did in the past.
Don’t waste time analyzing excuses or mentally beating yourself up for mistakes or failures. Expect your creative and analytical energies in areas of productivity and creativity, executing the activities and solving the problems that really matter.