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Managing an ‘alibi collector’

Hold even the most slippery staffers accountable

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

When something goes wrong, some employees always seem to have an alibi. You want to hold them accountable, but they explain how they weren’t “in the loop” or they weren’t around.

If you accept too many of these alibis, you let employees off the hook. As a result, they won’t take responsibility for their actions unless they can safely claim that they scored a big win.

Here’s how to respond to alibis:

Think solution, not problem. When a worker explains why he’s not responsible for a screw-up, turn his attention to what happens now. Dwelling on the past won’t help either of you forge a turnaround strategy. Say, “Regardless of what’s already happened, I need you to step up and suggest ways we can get back on track.”

Don’t debate the validity of excuses. Alibi collectors love to argue over why they think they’re in the clear. They’ve given much thought to how they can wash their hands of a mess, and they’ll volley back any accusation you fling at them.

For example, if you insist that they’re still responsible even though they weren’t in the office, they might claim that they can’t possibly control what happens when they take time off. Or they might “prove” that they did everything right—and someone else is to blame.

It’s smarter not to dignify their alibis by debating them. Instead, explain that when you give them an assignment, you expect them to perform it without excuses.

Draw the line. If employees use an alibi to cover up high-cost blunders or flagrant ethical violations, that’s grounds for firing. Once you allow workers to gloss over serious misdeeds or put a less harmful spin on their unacceptable actions, you invite them to up the ante the next time. Refuse to give second chances when an alibi collector pushes you too far.

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