Most people strive for good performance, but some are quite content with only a good excuse not to perform.

For this latter group, they can be surprisingly adept at getting away with their strategy, and often take great comfort in making their excuse when it is performance that is required.

Perhaps you have an employee who is always late yet always has an excuse, and seems to feel that all is well once the excuse is provided. Or the employee who sticks their head in your office the day a project is due and mentions, almost incidentally, that it will be a couple of days late.

How we as supervisors react to these events will drive the culture, the productivity and the success of the organization.

When an employee always arrives late and never has any consequences, that employee is rewarded for non-performance, thus insuring a perpetuation of the bad habit. It also sends a message to other employees that non-performance is okay — as as long there is an excuse, no matter how lame it is. And if non-performance is okay when it comes to attendance, maybe it is okay in other areas as well.

Creativity often shines when employing the excuse strategy. One employee had a performance goal to create a specific plan for an area of strategic growth. On the due date he submitted a formal plan, but upon review, it was only a plan to create a plan. He almost got away with it.

Or the sales manager who made an elaborate presentation citing the deficiencies of every other department as barriers to achieving his sales goal. After all, who couldn’t hit their sales goal with lower prices, perfect product availability, and credit extended to even those completely unworthy?

More recently, there is a new, universal, one-word excuse that works miraculously well: COVID. It has become a wonderful spectator sport listening to the litany of excuses that include that word. Six or eight months ago, this almost always was legitimate, but that legitimacy is fading quickly. Adaptation is the key to survival, and if we are still using the excuse of the pandemic for nonperformance, we are not adapting very well.

Some scenarios worth considering:

An employee reports they are late to work because they needed to stop for gas. “You mean you didn’t know your car required gas?”

The employee sticks their head in the door to let you know the project will be a couple of days late. “No,” is your simple response. “It is due today. Your assignment was to get it done today, not to have an excuse by today.”

When the sales manager blames everyone in the company for his nonperformance, “It is the sales department’s job to sell our products. Tell me what you will be doing to achieve our goals, not what you want everyone else to do in order for you to hit goals.”

“I know I told you that product would be delivered this week, but COVID is really messing up our delivery schedule.” “Are you telling me that when you took my order a month ago you didn’t know about the worldwide pandemic that has been with us for over six months?”

Most importantly, do not let the culture of making excuse take root in your organization. Certainly there can be legitimate excuses worthy of consideration, but do not tolerate excuses as substitutes for performance.

Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at