December 2017
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Great Excuses for Failure – Noone Saw It Coming

How to avoid blame for not being prepared.

A large office building was burning the other day when I went for my morning run. Fires are pretty unusual where I live, usually a matter of interest to few except insurers, bored firefighters and the people standing on the street behind the barricades down the street from the fire in question. The people behind this barricade included neighbors, the curious, and employees of the affected firm, including no doubt some very concerned managers.

Many of the wise and well prepared amongst the managers probably were calling staff and customers, busy with their appointed tasks from the firm’s business continuity plan. Staff on their way to the burning office were either being told to stay home or go to an alternate location. Meetings were being postponed. Clients were being reassured. There was much to do. 

What to do for those not so well prepared

The less well prepared were doubtlessly also in some discomfort, but just as busy. Good excuses are improved with preparation and rehearsal. The unprepared manager would have been wise to focus on unpredictability of the event. The potential of unpredictability is considerable, for many people accept that there is no preparing for what you cannot predict. This is false, but useful.

The plan that the well-prepared managers were acting on did not rely on predicting all of the threats facing their office. The reason why they could not use their office did not matter. The cause could have been almost anything; fire, flooding, labor unrest, and terrorism are just a few examples, but the mitigation for any and all of these would include moving operations to an alternate location.  

Stay focused

Effective use of this excuse requires maintaining a steady focus on how impossible the event was to predict. It goes without saying that looking busy is important, but the unprepared manager should remember to add a comment or too about the random nature of the event to all conversations. They should avoid any discussion of how the reaction to the event is often the same – or a just variation of the plan. They should also avoid the fact that accidents by their nature are usually random. Their task, after all, is to find an excuse.

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