“The Dog Ate It”

We’re all familiar with the phrase above.  Since any of us can remember, it has been the classic kids’ excuse for not getting homework done.  Truthfully, after having many terrific canines, I have experienced very few that eat paper—and fewer still that ate homework—but maybe it sounded just plausible enough or just cute enough to be believable.

The trouble is that we continue to use varieties of this excuse today to dodge, avoid, postpone and deter accountability.  In our personal and professional lives we humans tend to fall back on THE EXCUSE when something doesn’t get done.  Sure, today the excuses may be more subtle, more sophisticated, have more syllables and look less like excuses (And as an employer for 16 years, believe me, I’ve heard them all!).  But the result is the same: avoiding accountability for something not getting done.

Most organizations today exist within an ocean of what I call “accountability deficit.”  We simply let too many things get in the way of accomplishment, then make excuses for it and neither we nor others hold us accountable.  So, whether it’s your staff, your hired consultants, or even yourself (ouch!) that is making excuses for what is not being accomplished, here’s some thoughts on what you can do stop old Fido in his tracks:

  1. Acknowledge it.  This may seem hard at first.  It may be uncomfortable, but take a moment and remember your last five conversations.  If you remember hearing:
    • “I couldn’t (since, because, because of, the simple fact was) the (contractor, lab, partner) was (late, didn’t do, was busy elsewhere, etc.)” . . .
    • “I would have, but (something came up, I was just too busy, I had other things more urgent)”. . .
    • “I almost had it (but). . .”These phrases are all dead ringers for, yes THE EXCUSE!  Everything that comes after those words is less than the best of what we should expect from ourselves.
  2. Remember we’re human.  We all create excuses, some more than others and some more/less sophisticated in the execution of the excuse than others.  But we all do it at some point.
  3. Have fun catching and correcting ourselves.  If you’ve not done something you’re committed to, simply acknowledge it to the stakeholders and indicate what you’re doing to fix it.
  4. Don’t buy into it, be rigorous.  It’s one thing to not create an excuse and be accountable.  It’s quite another to not correct ourselves in the first place.  Be rigorous with yourself and with others.  Train your staff to not give in when confronted with that item that’s about to not get done; instead encourage them to ask for assistance or coaching to push through to completion.

So the next time you are tempted to utter—or to acknowledge—that well-worn excuse, stop for a moment and realize the opportunity for growth that is now before you.  Turn it into a chance to mentor or to ask for help yourself.  And let poor Fido get back to his bone.