Excuses & Assigning Blame In Retail

Excuses & Assigning Blame In Retail

Excuses! UGH – where do I start? Excuses make me crazy. I grew up in home that didn’t allow excuses. You made decisions – good or bad – and you had to endure the consequence of those decisions – good or bad. You didn’t blame your troubles or successes on chance or luck – you made deliberate and conscious decisions that had a real result and outcome that you – and you alone – owned. You didn’t excuse your lack of performance on anyone or anything. If you want it – you go after it. That has been the case with me as long as I can remember. Have I – on occasion – tried to make excuses or assign blame to various acts of the universe? Of course I have! But – at the end of the day – I know that I own every decision and result that I get right [and can celebrate or brag about] or get really wrong [which happens with some frequency]. I wholeheartedly believe that the greatest retail leaders are passionately objective about their performance, derive a tremendous sense of professional accomplishment from possessing an elevated level of personal accountability, and are committed and authentic truth-tellers.


2016 has been a really rewarding year for me, professionally, but it has also been one of the most challenging as I have worked on a few projects that allowed me to work with, and learn from, a unique group of people that I had not encountered – to date – in my professional life. The traits and habits that these unique individuals possess [on a pretty consistent level – and at every level] were:

  • A passionate and enthusiastic commitment to excuse or assign blame to every negative experience they’d created for themselves
  • A deep delusion of adequacy
  • A desire to deliver perpetual incompetence
  • A capricious relationship with the business

These experiences and interactions really forced me to approach leadership development in a different way, evaluate a different criteria for success, and examine the “why” behind this overwhelming compulsion to excuse poor or “good enough” performance and how people of all ages and backgrounds shared this common trait inside the organization(s) and – finally – why and how these retail organization(s) attracted this really challenging employee base.

Clinically Speaking, Why Do We Make Excuses?


Psychologists place “excuse-making” in the ‘self-handicapping’ category, it’s a behavior we express that hurts our own performance, motivation, and – ultimately – our professional reputation. It serves as a distraction that prevents us from achieving the task, but it stems from a deeper – albeit a more juvenile – desire to protect ourselves against anxiety, shame, inconvenient conversations, and responsibility. The more anxious or ashamed we are likely to feel, the more likely we are to build barriers to “protect” ourselves but that have the unfortunate side effect of impeding our chances of achieving excellence.

Excuses aim to shift the focus from issues pertaining to our sense of self and our ownership of our own performance and results as leaders to issues that are relatively less central and frequently unrelated. For example: someone asks you why you didn’t complete the project on-time or correctly [or both or why you didn’t make your goals. Anxiety and shame immediately bubble up like a witches brew in our tummies. Our subconscious quickly tries to protect our sense of self from being attacked or criticized, and we blurt out – “It wasn’t my fault” and then assign blame to the weather, the customer, a coworker, the drive to work, the POS system! Anything/Everything that potentially shifts the focus from our lack of preparation and desire to succeed – no matter how transparent – to an external source that was ultimately out of our control. Most of the time, people that are really adept at excusing their performance do this so that they feel less burdened, less anxious and…convince themselves they are without responsibility to the issue. “I could have done it if…” or “I would have done it if…”…”and it would have been great”.

According to University of Florida researchers [Dr. Barry Schlenker, Beth Pontari, & Christopher] there are both advantages and disadvantages to excuse-making. Excuses can actually be somewhat beneficial if the end result is a protected self-esteem, low anxiety, and depression. Sometimes when we are given a “second chance”, we may perform better the next time because we’re no longer suffering a threat to our self-image. This in turn can boost self-control and focus, resulting in elevated performance – next time. But for excuses to be the ‘good’ kind they must be credible and maintain both value for the goal and sympathy for the excuse-maker. This is not the type of excuse we typically experience in retail.

This is what we most frequently get: Once outside of these parameters, you’re looking at the truly toxic type of, and most damaging, excuses. These excuses ultimately undermine a person’s accountability and professional reputation, which makes other people see them as deceitful, ineffectual and self-absorbed [because they are]. These types of excuses are honestly – lies [I am sick/My child is sick], self-handicapping [He/She never showed me how – so I am unable to do it] or blame-shifting [I failed but only because she/he doesn’t like me. So it’s her/his fault. Not mine].

Realistically Speaking, Why Do We Make Excuses?


The most unhealthy mental vice we allow ourselves on a daily basis is the capacity to make excuses and then almost start to believe them, in an effort to push ideas, and healthy, and – frequently – positive actions away. Honestly, what are we really doing when we make excuses? We’re allowing ourselves to justify our decision to avoid a certain task, fail, reason irrational behavior, or not accept responsibility/accountability.

After all, by making excuses, we’re accepting the least amount of effort possible from ourselves and – strangely – refocusing effort that could drive accomplishment and results into nothing more than creating a toxic environment and exhausting ourselves of mental capacity by making excuses and assigning blame. I frequently find myself dealing with such elaborate excuses and webs of lies and half-truths, I can’t help but think if the excuse maker channeled their energy into something positive and productive – they could be spectacular!

In retail, if you’re someone who defaults to making excuses, it is 100% your choice and your decision to own. No successful leader, colleague, or team member makes excuses for their inaction or action gone wrong, they make great things happen regardless of their situation or circumstance.

Commitment To Owning Your Performance & Results


  • Excuses & Playing The Blame Game Is Ultimately Self-Sabotaging: As previously mentioned you will be viewed as ineffectual, a liar, and a coward. Our minds instinctively know that we have to push ourselves, and if we avoid pushing, we’ll create as many excuses as we can to justify our behavior. This behavior and lack of personal discipline will keep you stagnant and moving laterally through your entire retail career if you don’t choose to be better. To do better. And to own your results, choices, and performance each and everyday. As I mentioned earlier in this post, the greatest retail leaders are ruthlessly objective about their performance, derive a tremendous sense of professional accomplishment from possessing an elevated level of personal accountability, and are committed and authentic truth-tellers – these qualities will support a career path and forward momentum in the retail industry.

It is an unfortunate truth that many retail organizations allow for a certain level of this juvenile, excuse & blame assigning, behavior instead of hiring people who display a tremendous amount of personal accountability and pride in their performance. This is a culture issue that allows for this person to exist or not, and great cultures made up of great people – though the bad ones may sneak into the organization occasionally – will quickly identify these toxic employees and weed them out.

  • Believe That There Is ALWAYS A Lesson To Be Learned, And Commit To Learning It: Great retail leaders live to learn and use even their mistakes (yes – even the quiet ones that no one may notice) to learn and improve. Unless you’re really willing to learn the lesson and take ownership of the event or results – even if it feels uncomfortable at times – you can never move forward. Make a commitment to view the situation as something that can help you grow and elevate your performance.
  • Admit That You May Have Had A Part In The Problem: This does require you to immediately quit playing the blame and excuse game. Just consider, for a moment, the possibility that you somehow contributed – even in the teeniest, tiniest way – to your current situation. This doesn’t mean no one else played a part; it simply means perhaps you did, as well  – and start thinking of how to turn it around.
  • Let Go Of Your Attachment To The Issue: Trying to control the problem – your boss, your colleagues, and/or your circumstances – and keep up with your charade will only keep you more attached to it. The more you continue with your campaign of excuses or assigning blame, the more exhausted you become and the more your reputation will be eroded.  You will never be able to identify the lesson or the solution if you can’t step back and learn to let it go. Letting go could come in many forms: seeing the good in the person who seems difficult or with whom you are at odds,  accepting a situation for what it is, or seeing the situation from another perspective. Any time we let go of our attachment to what went wrong or what should have/could have happened, we create the possibility of growth and we can start to repair the damage we have inflicted on ourselves – and we pave the path for more positive results, opportunities, and partnerships.
  • Determine Your “Why”: Define the priorities in your life and make sure your priorities are aligned with your current situation and goals and the organization’s. Make sure your goals align with the things you enjoy (and hopefully make you happy). If you are miserable and unmotivated to do anything other than excuse your performance results – why are you in a place where that is your method of survival? If your current situation doesn’t align with happiness, accomplishment, or fun – what’s the point? If you are committed to staying in place – at least be honest with yourself and others. Taking responsibility and understanding the real why behind the excuse and blame will move you closer to achieving results that don’t require excuses or blaming others.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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