Tech & Work

Help employees break the perpetual excuse habit

Jay Rollins says IT leaders should encourage employees to stop using these career-stalling excuses; otherwise, they'll get noticed for all the wrong reasons.

Employees are always looking for ways to get noticed in the workplace and for tips about what could set them apart and put them on the fast trackĀ for promotion. But they should also be aware of what could get them noticed for the wrong reasons, such as being known for giving excuses. Here's advice you can offer employees who need to break the excuse doom cycle.

First, do not accept excuses from yourself. By following this straightforward yet difficult rule, you'll do things the right way, and this behavior will get noticed. A few tasks or minor responsibilities tend to grow exponentially because people who can be relied on to get the job done without a lot of management oversight are very rare. Before long, you'll be invited into the decision-making circle.

Second, do not fall back on the following common excuses:

Ownership transfer excuse

When you are assigned a task, you must keep the responsibility where it belongs. If you can't reach that person, find someone else to answer your question. Don't give up and say "Well, I sent him an e-mail," or "I left him a voicemail." Keep going until you get the information you need.

Bird dog excuse

The next excuse to overcome is the availability of some resource. For example, "I couldn't find the driver on the Web site." These types of discoveries are made in process. It's kind of like changing the oil in your car but forgetting the oil filter wrench. In these cases, be the bird dog. Don't stop until you find what you need. Find another Web site or call a friend or the manufacturer's support line until you get the driver. Too many times, the smallest roadblock will deter an employee from accomplishing his or her goal. Persistence is key.

Critical thinking excuse

Thinking through situations, especially where new technologies are involved, provides a lot of insight into areas of risk. These areas of risk can be considered unknowns that could potentially derail a task and generate the lack of critical thinking excuse.

I recently heard this type of excuse when a company was adopting a new touchscreen kiosk. The team looked at the obvious parts (such as the bracket that holds the unit to the wall, power requirements, and the software that works on the device), but they did not think through whether the USB card swipe device was compatible with the software. They did not discover this until they started rolling out the kiosks, causing delays and providing an excuse that was intended to deflect blame. The excuse may make the person giving the excuse feel like he or she is off the hook, but in reality, the job didn't get done. Thinking through all the interaction points of a system and identifying "risk" areas gives you the punch list of things to check and recheck. So, be sure to ask the right questions, such as:

  • What is new?
  • What software interacts with what is new?
  • What hardware interacts with what is new?
  • What person or people or role interacts with what is new?
  • How many risk areas are there given all these interactions with what is new?
  • Based on the number of risk areas, how long do I need to test this technology?
  • What does my test plan and verification checklist look like?
  • Did I overlook anything?
Timing excuse

This particular excuse is so good that it is used very often and to great effect, especially now that IT departments are asked to do more with less.

"I couldn't get to it today because of a crisis." There will always be crises. The CEO's e-mail box is corrupted; a disk drive in the SAN failed; the database server ran out of memory. When a crisis occurs (and it will), it may delay the task, but it should not prevent the task from being completed. Once you commit to a task, you need to see it through to the end; only the person who assigned you the task can release you from that burden. Communication and expectation setting come into play here, but be careful not to transfer ownership. It is easy to say to the person who gave you the task, "What do you want to do? Fix the crashed database or get your task done?" Of course, they will want the database crash addressed, but you just transferred ownership back to the task giver. In order to get the reputation and promotion you want, you need to earn the reputation that you'll get the job done no matter what is thrown at you.

As an old Navy senior chief once told me, "There are no excuses!" Once you do not accept excuses from yourself, you'll see that it is very easy not to accept excuses from others.

Get leadership tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Leadership newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Thursday, features blogs, white papers, and other resources for IT managers and CIOs. You'll receive advice on staffing, morale, dealing with day-to-day challenges, and much more. Automatically sign up today!

Editor's Picks