During my routine business tasks as a retail territory manager, I am constantly faced with the need to coach my team. Coaching is a delicate soft skill that requires careful attention because such small details as the diction you use can have a significant impact on the employee’s reception.
Today’s blog post is focused on what I consider to be an invaluable internal coaching policy for any aspiring leadership or business coaches or consultants: reject excuses. This statement might seem harsh or aggressive at first but, believe me, it will save you a lot of time and headaches as a team leader.
Furthermore (and possibly more importantly), this policy of rejecting excuses will set a tone and create a culture among your direct reports that encourages positive-oriented identification of opportunities for improvement rather than negative-oriented justifications for under-performance via excuses.
Leaders coach their team members to be problem solvers:
The fact is: when something or someone goes wrong, it needs to get fixed — quickly. If you don’t agree with this statement, then your competitors will outperform you in the marketplace. So rather than mulling on what goes wrong from the perspective of “It wasn’t my fault because –,” your team members should be thinking, “This went wrong and we as a team need to uncover why this occurred so that we can fix it.” Think positive and from a pragmatic, action-oriented perspective and business results will follow. I guarantee it.
Rejecting excuses saves you time & earns you respect:
Rejecting excuses from your employees or contractors will save you time and earn you respect as a leader. If you make it very clear to your team from the outset of your leadership role that you do not accept excuses, they will quickly learn to stop trying to justify their lack of performance and instead fix the issues. This is what you want as a manager. Moreover, employees and contractors are likely to gain respect for their boss if they know that she or he will not tolerate justifications for mediocrity.
How to change your team’s attitude and culture:
As discussed so eloquently in this Entrepreneur article, an effective approach to changing your employees’ attitudes or overall culture is to ask open-ended questions. Rather than saying “You should have done this” or “Why didn’t you do this?”, you should focus on the future and on improvement. If an employee or contractor did not meet their sales objectives, for example, consider starting the conversation with, “Could you tell me why these sales goals were not achieved?”
Your direct report might try to shift the blame of the unmet sales targets away from themselves by saying something like, “It’s the suppliers’ fault, they never deliver product when they’re supposed to, and they leave our store with empty shelves!”
While the above excuse might very well be true, it’s the attitude of this team member that needs coaching and, ultimately, changing. Note that in this particular example, the manager’s initial instinct was to push the root cause of the sales problem out of their own control and into the supplier’s accountability. This is not constructive, actionable, or positive — it’s akin to admitting defeat and settling for it!
A better response to this question, in my opinion, would have been: “The sales goals were not achieved indeed, and this is currently a top priority of mine. The results are unacceptable and I’ll do everything in my power to make up for our lost sales this month over the next month or two.” This communicates a sense of accountability and ownership of poor sales results…. continuing: “Part of the problem is our supplier’s frequency of delivery. It seems like we are always running of products before our subsequent delivery, so we don’t even have product on the shelf to offer our customers.”
As this manager’s leader, I would then respond: “So going forward, what are you going to do about this to fix it?” Hopefully, the manager would respond: “I’ll reach out to my supplier rep and call a meeting. We need to align ourselves on order quantities and delivery frequency. I should have done this sooner, it will be fixed on a go-forward and this should optimize our sales”.
This is one of many potential examples of using root cause analysis to improve the leadership of your team members. Always ask “Why?” and insist that ownership of non-performance lies in the hands of your direct report, not anyone or anything else.
So there you have it! My two cents on how rejecting excuses allows you to be a better & more efficient coach. Always focus on the path to your solution, not the reasons for your problem. Boil down abstract business problems into actionable steps and execute those actions.
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