Hopefully by now a lot of people know about my book Leadership Is/Isn't Easy. It's a compilation of articles and stories on leadership that I believe can help people understand leadership concepts without hammering them over the head.

I decided to share one of those articles here just to give y'all a taste of what the book is all about. I'm not explaining it further; the title speaks for itself:

3D Employee Empowerment
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If you’re a manager, you’ve heard some of these:

“I’m sorry I was late, but,…”

“I’m afraid that I didn’t finish,…”

“I don’t remember you saying that.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me to do it anymore because,…”

Excuses, excuses. Every single manager or director or supervisor at some point has heard something like this. Excuses are what makes the world go around. Without excuses, everything would get done on time perfectly and there wouldn’t be any reason for productivity standards or any other office rules. Without excuses, there wouldn’t be any issues regarding harassment, discrimination, or just basic rudeness. Without excuses,… well, you get the picture.

Sure, no one is perfect, and we all have an excuse every once in a while. There are times when you probably don’t need an excuse because you know what’s occurring (i.e., in central New York, snowstorms). There are times when excuses are legitimate and unavoidable, such as a death in the family, a car accident, or the illness of a family member.

Most of the time, you hate when someone comes to you with an excuse. You hate having to deal with tardiness, or too many sick calls. You hate when people don’t make deadlines. You hate when people make too many errors and don’t seem accountable for their duties. You hate that it all falls on your shoulders to have to make the tough call as to what to do all the time because you feel as though you do things correctly, so everyone else should also.

Let’s tackle some of these things one at a time, starting with the last one. If you’re in a supervisory position, you probably have a little bit more leeway than the employees who report to you in some situations. You have deadlines to make, just like everyone else, but you have some caveats your employees don’t.

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If you’re salaried, you probably can take a longer lunch every once in a while. You can probably take a longer break here and there. When you go to talk to another supervisor or manager, you can spend some time talking about frivolous issues without worrying about someone coming up to you and asking you why you’re not working.

You do have more pressure because you’re accountable for the work your employees do or don’t do, but you also have more freedom. And, you allowed yourself to be promoted; you should be holding yourself to a higher standard than your employees. That doesn’t mean you should let your employees get away with murder; it just means you should view your situation in a different light than you view that of those who report to you.

Second, let’s take a look at tardiness. This seems to be one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about employees. As I said earlier, everyone has their day. However, some employees seem to violate this more often than others. It’s up to you to talk to the employee to discover whether there’s an issue they can’t overcome or whether they're just unreliable. If they have difficulties getting to work because of their children (such as having to wait for them to get onto the bus before leaving for work), maybe you can find a way to flex their time so they can take care of their familial obligations. I fully understand wanting to treat everyone the same in all circumstances, but sometimes, if you value the employee, you need to find a way to work with them so they can follow the rules.

I actually had this specific issue; one of the children of one of my employees had his school bus pick up time changed when the new school year began, and suddenly she was 10 minutes late every day. Once I found out what the issue was, I decided to institute a flex time policy, as I had one other person in the department with a child. I set up a time range, then I had the employees have their own meeting to determine who would show up when, and who would work until when. The only rule I had was that the office had to be staffed between 8 and 4, which was the stated office hours. They came up with something workable, no one could say I was playing favorites, and everyone was happy. And this employee was back within time limits, and I never had to write her up for tardiness.

The third issue is employees not completing tasks in a timely manner. Most of the time this is due to one of three reasons. The first is you didn’t make sure the employees knew what was expected of them, or didn’t make sure they understood you. The second is that the time frame was unreasonable, and no allowances were made for outside obstacles. The third is that the employee was incapable of the task because they weren’t up to department standards. Let’s talk about each of these briefly.

1. It’s always up to you, the manager, to make sure those who work for you understand exactly what you expect of them. If you say “they should know” but you’ve never told them, it's your fault. Unless you’ve worked with every person in your office for many years so that you definitely know each other's habits, you need to verify and verify and verify. Sure it seems tedious, but you have to ask yourself if you’re looking to get things right or not. When all is said and done, you’re the one who’s going to be asked by upper management why things aren’t going right.

How do you do all of this? One, you could write it out. Two, you could ask them to repeat back to you what you said. Three, you could have regular meetings with your employees so that all of you can get to know each other better, and you then have a better understanding of what they need from you to get things accomplished.

Employee Ownership
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2. As a manager, you need to know whether your expectations for certain tasks are reasonable or not, as well as whether there are factors which could change the time frame. For instance, if you have a time sensitive project and you’ve given it to a person whose main duties are talking to customers on the phone, you’ve set this person up to fail. Or if you give extra work to the one person in the office you feel is capable of handling it, and then that person calls in sick and no one else picks up the slack, you might not get your project completed. Work has to be as balanced as possible, and you have to plan for contingencies. You can’t expect unrealistic results from an uneven playing field. In today’s work environment, you can’t expect to be able to push people unreasonably all the time; they just aren’t going to respond to it as they might have in the past.

3. All managers are guilty at some point of carrying someone who’s holding down the department. I’ve done it myself, though I’ve been lucky that its happened rarely. Let’s face a truth; we all know who our weak links are. There’s a commercial on right now where this guy says he fakes busy so well that everyone thinks he’s the most important person in the department.

In the real world numbers don’t lie. What happens is that sometimes we get too close to a person emotionally for one reason or another. We allow the excuses because someone may be getting sick, or having family issues, or a myriad of other things. Sometimes we can get by because the rest of the team is holding up, and if you can deal with that then fine. If you can’t, you have to be willing and ready to talk to this person, help them raise their work performance, monitor them with their knowledge, and, if all else fails, let them go, or move them elsewhere.

In my case, I inherited one long time employee who, because of increasing physical issues, wasn’t able to keep up with others on the team. I believe in loyalty, even if it wasn’t directly to me, so I refused to let this employee go. Instead, I moved her to a different department where speed wasn’t as important as courtesy and accuracy, and she thrived at the new position. Customers loved working with her, she was less stressed because of the change in the duties, and everything was fine with the world.

Everyone has an excuse every once in a while. They should be allowed, if kept to a minimum; after all, we’re only human. But you have to be ready to not only look at the person, but the situation, if your issues are recurring. Don’t let the excuses cause you to have to make excuses to someone else later.