When was the last time someone gave you a reason for not doing something important, for not meeting a deadline, not performing to their best ability or not meeting a specific goal. If you are in a leadership position, chances are you hear reasons or excuses for underachievement fairly regularly. In fact, we live in a culture where blame is rife. We blame our colleagues, technology, company culture, transport, you name it, as an excuse for not performing to our best abilities. We are quick to offer up reasons why we didn’t keep our commitments. And if the reason is compelling or believable enough it will lessen or negate the impact of underperforming, letting us off the hook. And over time, we start believing that the reason is true which then limits what actions we can take to overcome the challenge. It’s a viscous cycle.
If reasons for underperforming are simply accepted, then a culture of reasonable blame is created and this can cripple an organisation’s productivity. A leader who doesn’t tolerate inadequate reasons for underachievement is key to breaking or avoiding this cycle completely. Recognising when people are making up reasons or excuses for not performing, or blaming someone or something for not performing is a key skill for the effective leader. Seemingly ‘reasonable reasons’, identified early on, can be addressed and even avoided altogether if a leader knows the right way to deal with them.
Reasonable vs Unreasonable Reasons
I like to categorise reasons into two groups; reasonable and unreasonable. Unreasonable reasons are obvious, poor excuses that a manager can easily deem as unacceptable and set boundaries for them. “I slept through my alarm and missed the meeting” for example, would probably not be accepted again and again as a reasonable excuse for not arriving to the office on time. But it’s the ‘reasonable reasons’ that often slip through the nets and are more difficult to identify, pinpoint and address. These might be along the lines of “we don’t have enough time/ budget/ resources …”, “the market shifted significantly during the project” and other complex challenges that arise that seem like reasonable reasons that your team can’t perform or finish their work to the standards expected of them. It’s vital for the effective leader to communicate what reasons will and won’t be accepted, whilst remaining supportive, approachable and understanding. As a manager you need to constantly strive to be a challenging yet supportive leader; one who understands a situation is tough but pushes staff to achieve regardless. This can be a difficult but important balance to strike for any manager. Let’s explore some practical ways this can be achieved in today’s workplace.
‘The standard you walk past is the standard you accept’
Managers need to keep this in mind constantly. Great leaders get things done, no matter what the reasons. If you don’t communicate what reasons are unacceptable, they will simply persist. Regular, open communication with staff is of course the foundation of a good working relationship that allows rapport to flourish. When a tough project is about to commence, gather your team together and let them know you understandand expect that challenges will arise, but that you expect your team to collectively get things done and meet the set outcomes regardless. By keeping your team focussed on the outcome, and focussed on the fact that the outcome is carved in stone and inflexible, you can encourage your team to explore different solutions or methods as challenges arise, to overcome them and do things differently to meet the desired outcome. Encourage them to use what they have better than the challenges they are up against. This can be achieved through collaborative conversation, with you and with each other. “We didn’t anticipate the market shifting. What can we do achieve our goal despite this challenge?” This opens the conversation to collectively finding the right solution, while staying focussed on the original outcome. At the beginning of a project, be clear to state your desired outcome and perhaps even talk about some possible challenges that may arise. “We need to sell 10,000 widgets over the next 3 months. What are the usual reasons that come up to stop us doing this?”. Write a list of all the reasons that could come up, and put a big cross next to all the ones (perhaps all of them) that are unacceptable. Then everyone is clear on what are acceptable and what are unacceptable reasons.
Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.