When Dogs Eat Homework

This article is about dealing with excuses. Don’t have time to read it? Yeah, that’s probably an excuse. C’mon, you’ve got five minutes, especially because:

If you spend time dealing with excuses, this article will save you hundreds of hours a year.

Also, in this article is a free tool with six simple principles that, when embodied in an organization, solve any problem. Impossible? Try to prove me wrong, if you can. One of them prevents excuses. Excuses: you hear them every day:

“Sorry, I got caught in traffic.”

“I didn’t get back to you because I didn’t have an answer yet.”

“But I didn’t intend to do that!”

Excuses are like pornography in our society: we know when we see them, but don’t know how to deal with them. Excuses are tiny daggers for productivity. You don’t see the impact of each one, but they can add up to the death of a business.

I talked about meta-supervision not long ago, but here’s a quick review:

Supervision is making sure someone does what they already know to do. Management is leading people into the unknown so they can stretch and grow.

Meta-supervision is naming the fact that you’re supervising so that one day you won’t have to anymore.

When someone makes an excuse, they give you the job of leading them to responsibility. They invite supervision. That what dealing with excuses is. Here’s how that usually looks:

Supervisor: Hey John, I haven’t seen that report on my desk yet.

Employee: Oh, yeah, sorry, I got busy. I’ll get it to you soon.

Supervisor: Okay, I appreciate that. Remember, I need it every Monday by noon.

Employee: Right, I know. I just got super-busy. I’ll get it to you by 1:30 pm, okay?

Supervisor: Okay, that’ll work.

That’s supervision. This conversation happens entirely at the level of content. How work is related to and happening is not discussed (context). You’ll see what I mean in the following example of how a manager could handle it.

Dealing With Excuses To End Them Forever

Manager: Hey John, I haven’t seen that report on my desk yet.

Employee: Oh, yeah, sorry, I got busy. I’ll get it to you soon.

Manager: Okay, I appreciate that, but what actually happened?

Employee: I’m just so busy, I forgot about it.

Manager: But how did you forget about it?

Employee: Um, I guess I didn’t write it down.

Manager: Oh, that makes sense. You know you make your life harder when you don’t write down your commitments.

Employee: I know, I learned that in Clear Workspace, Open Mind and am still implementing what I learned.

Manager: Maybe I can help, let’s spend a few minutes looking at your task manager. And I just need to name that when said you got busy–you realize that was an excuse, right?

Employee: Yeah, I do now. I’m sorry I made it.

Manager: Good, so let’s agree that in the future you work to dig underneath those excuses before making them. Find the real reasons without me having to do the digging. I don’t want to have to supervise you, and I know you don’t like it either. I’m here to help, but you’ve got to do your side of it, okay?

Employee: Okay, that’s a deal.

In this example, not only is the issue of the report dealt with (content), but why it was late as well (context). In addition, the manager addresses the larger context of excuses that translates into everything that employee does, in business and in their life. As the saying goes, “How you do anything is how you do everything” and in this small moment, the employee’s efficacy, responsibility, and level of self-awareness increased everywhere in their life. This is exactly how you can serve someone personally in a professional realm.

The alternative, only making it about the report and not about the pattern of behavior, reduces the employee to a cog in a machine where the only thing that matters is the business results they produce, not their blind spots as a human being.

All sounds good, right? The only problem is that when you call someone on making excuses, what usually happens?

They get defensive.

This is why most people avoid truly dealing with excuses. At best it’s uncomfortable, and at worst it ruins the relationship. Meta-supervision is how you avoid that.

In other words, you tell people from the very beginning that you’re going to talk about excuses when they come up. This is explicit in the Clear and Open Code of Conduct, which I theorize solves all business problems for those who dare to embody it.

People still may become defensive for a moment, but when you remind them that you’re doing exactly what you both agreed to, it passes. The real reason people get defensive when you call them on excuses is because they feel ambushed. But if the relationship is based on mutual trust, a feeling of safety, and an agreement that these kinds of things are talked about, your accountability comes as no surprise and can even be welcomed.

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