This blog is going to be a bit of a rant so I apologise in advance if it sounds a bit ‘shouty’. The subject of my ire is excuses and a specific kind of excuse in particular. The excuse is the one where someone tries to deflect attention away from their poor performance by pointing out an even poorer (or worse) performance by someone else.
Listen out for those using the deflected blame tactic and you will hear just how common and ubiquitous it has become. Just listen to any news bulletin or sports programme and you will hear multiple examples. Unfortunately this type of excuse is also overused in business.
It happens at all levels and across all public and private industry sectors and politicians have mastered the art. For many it has become the default defence mechanism of choice and it makes my blood boil. The main reason why I hate to hear it so much is that the performance of other people has absolutely no bearing on the performance of the person concerned.
I would rather have honesty, personal responsibility and an apology rather than the associated ‘attitude’ that comes from the “I wasn’t as bad as them” individuals concerned. Honesty, personal responsibility and an apology tell me that the individual is aware of their failing and will therefore strive to do better in the future. People that compare themselves by the failing of others will never improve. They will continue to plod along doing just enough not to be the worse at anything!
The answer to eliminating this awful and debilitating practice is better management. Managers that accept the excuses are the reason why it is used. Managers must make it absolutely clear to their people that this type of excuse in unacceptable and why? Of course it also means you cannot use this type of excuse either.
If you are a manager that directly and publicly compares your people on a regular basis, then you are making the situation worse. If you build people up as superstars then be careful as in my experience this tactic rarely works. Great management is about working with people on an individual basis to get the best out of each of them dependent upon their potential. The best way to ensure this is to work on their attitude as much if not more than their actual performance KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
When recruiting new staff challenge them on aspects of their CV and question their performance to see what excuses they give. Better still run a recruitment day and set challenges. Question their performance during final interviews and again listen out for the type of excuses they give.
We won’t ever eliminate all excuses but please help me to eradicate the deflected blame excuse as a matter of priority.
Head of Training
Originally published: 4 November, 2013
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