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Expert excuses

Posted by A Friend on 13 April 2009

No Excuses A natural inclination of people who make mistakes at work is to first deny making the mistake, then deflect, and only admit the mistake if there is no other way out. Most novices who have not mastered the craft of making excuses are easily found out. But some are real experts at doing this. And some of these expert excuse givers are also the real life experts that we often rely on to do the job.

Take Rachel for example. She is a lead developer for an offshore outsourcing company and often finds herself involved in multiple projects at the same time. She is both very knowledgeable and efficient, and has an established reputation of being able to deliver solutions in very short timeframes. Rachel’s problem is she sometimes over-commits herself, and when faced with challenging situations and she is found to have some shortcomings with her delivery, she is often very quick to make excuses.

Once, she was required to deliver a fairly simple automated batch update program for an offshore client. The client’s lead business analyst came from a development background, and while they estimated the work to be completed within two to three days, they generously gave Rachel a week to complete the job. Unfortunately, because of Rachel’s conflicting commitments, two weeks had passed and Rachel still was not able to deliver the piece. The client took her to task for this, and she made an elaborate web of excuses about how the development was not so simple as initially outlined and how there was no functional specification given. The client’s view was the development was so simple that it did not even require a detailed specification.

Another time, again because of conflicting commitments, Rachel rushed the release of a small change request to a development through a productive environment without properly testing it. It turned out that while the update addressed the change required, it also caused some other functionality to be lost. The client took Rachel to task for this, and rather than just admitting that she did not do proper regression testing, she blamed the client for not having any test scripts and not providing a functional resource to help her. The client’s expectation of people at her level is they can do their own test scripts.

Charlie is a slightly different case. He is an in-house senior business analyst for a global manufacturer. He has been with the company for over ten years and for most of the time, he has been involved in turnkey organizational change projects. So Charlie’s expertise cuts across the organization, and he is often called upon to work on projects requiring complex process changes.

Like Rachel, Charlie often finds his time and attention divided between multiple projects. And while Charlie is a proven doer, he is known to hog all of the work and is not very good at delegating. So more often than not, Charlie finds himself spending anywhere between 12 to 16 hours a day working. The company understands this and is generally understanding of Charlie’s shortcomings. In fact, it is common for team members to shield Charlie from criticism and make excuses on his behalf.

In situations when his teammates can no longer make excuses for him and his mistakes are pointed out, Charlie is known to have a very short fuse and is quick to throw a tantrum. He engages in emotional blackmail and will promptly point out all of the hard work that he has done and the long hours that he has spent working. Without saying it outright, Charlie is communicating that because of his workload, no one should be faulting him, even when he is at fault.

Technically, Rachel and Charlie are right and are entitled to the excuses that they make, as they should not be expected to work the ridiculous hours that they are doing. However, it is also Rachel and Charlie’s responsibility to make sure that they only accept work that they can handle. Once they accept the responsibility for a piece of work, they should also accept the level of scrutiny that goes with it.

Experts who are wont to making excuses are generally the high maintenance types in organizations. They know that they are a valuable commodity, and they take advantage of, sometimes even exploit, this knowledge. They are both an asset and a liability. They crave for and embrace recognition, but they find it hard to accept accountability.

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