How to Manage an Employee Who Always Makes Excuses

April 30, 2018

Have an employee who loves making excuses? Here's the best way to manage them.

You know the type.

The project is late because the vendor didn’t do their job. The presentation went bad because the meeting format was poor. It’s over-budget because procurement screwed up.

No matter what the situation, this employee has an excuse for why it didn't work. They might even have a valid excuse – but still, you are sensing a pattern.

And you want to end it.

Well thankfully, in her LinkedIn Learning course Coaching Employees Through Difficult Situations, Instructor Elizabeth McLeod explains exactly what to do in this situation. The key is focusing the conversation on the root issue, instead of the excuses themselves.

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Elizabeth McLeod explains how to coach an employee who loves making excuses.

How to Manage an Employee Who Always Makes Excuses

Next time an employee who loves to make excuses hits you with yet another excuse, follow this four-step formula, McLeod said:

    1. Open with a question.

First, ask questions to understand their reasoning. The excuse might really be valid this time. The last thing you want to do is ignore a legitimate excuse, as it’ll undermine your credibility and potentially encourage more excuses moving forward.

So, start with a question to understand why the person didn't deliver.

    2. Acknowledge the pattern of misses.

Let’s say the excuse is not particularly legitimate and they've made similar mistakes several times. Now is the time to bring that series of misses to the employee's attention.

For example, if the person has missed deadlines repeatedly, call that out – as opposed to focusing on this month's excuse.

“This is where you start to make the conversation about the behavior of excuse-making, rather than today's excuse,” McLeod said.

    3. Reinforce the importance of positive behavior.

Here, you need to explain why the desired behavior is important — and the consequences when the employee doesn't deliver it.

For example, say the employee continually misses deadlines on projects. You need to make it clear why hitting deadlines is so important. It could be that other teams are dependent on their deliverables or because of the extra costs that incur when deadlines are missed.

The point here is for them to understand why you are holding them to that standard. Make it clear it isn't arbitrary, but has real business consequences.

“When someone sees why something is important, they're more likely to do it,” McLeod said.

    4. End with some accountability.

Last but certainly not least – set the expectation moving forward. If the person has missed two of the past three deadlines, make it clear they need to hit their deadline next month. Or, if they can’t meet it, tell them they need to come to you beforehand and explain why.

And then, of course, follow through and hold them accountable next month.

Bottom line — most employees will make an excuse when confronted with a mistake. And some are particularly prone to doing so.

You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you are debunking every excuse. Instead, you want to transcend the excuses, address the behavior itself and make the expectation clear moving forward.

Following the four steps listed above should accomplish that.

Want to get better at coaching your employees? Watch Lisa and Elizabeth McLeod’s full course, Coaching Employees through Difficult Situations.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are:

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