Eliminating Excuses- Pre-Mortem Activity

Let’s be honest, we all make excuses. It is really difficult to accept our own failures and much easier to lay blame on something or someone else. This is especially prevalent in team environments. In her book, Teach Your Team to Fish, Laurie Beth Jones states, “Fewer than 15% of team blockages are caused by external factors- or ‘them.’ Yet these are the variables that consumes 90% of the team’s vital thought time.”

We want to believe that the problem is out there and it is someone else’s job to solve it. Left unbridled, we fall into the trap of employing “if only” strategies or simply making excuses. Don’t get me wrong, there are valid excuses, but we are in trouble if that is our default position. Leaders need to find ways to eliminate or at the very least, minimize excuses for not achieving goals and priorities.

An interesting and proactive approach to eliminating excuses is an activity that I led my leaders through last week called Pre-Mortem. The activity begins by listing the goals you want to achieve in a given time frame on the top of a T-chart. Groups brainstorm and respond to the following question, “What might be some reasons why at the end of year (or whatever time frame) we have not achieved this goal?”  Each possible reason is recorded on the left side of the chart. Then groups are asked to come up with at least one strategy to address each of the reasons for not achieving the intended goal and write them on the right side of the chart. The premise is if you know the barriers of achieving your goals to begin with you can initiate strategies to address them early.  The listed strategies now become part of your plan and provide a more targeted approach for success.

The last piece of the activity that I employed with my leaders was to review the chart below and have them define whether the reasons for not succeeding were problems or conditions? This is an important part of the exercise because too often we get stuck in trying to find solutions that are simply beyond our influence or are really not that much of an issue.

These are issues…

  • Within our sphere of influence or control.
  • That we want to spend time and resources on.
  • That can be resolved.
These are issues…

  • Over which we have not influence or control.
  • That we do not have enough resources to change.
  • That we do not want to change at this time.
Barth, R., Darnell, B., Lipton, LO. and Wellman, B. (2003) Guide for Instructional Leaders, Guide 1: An ASCD Action Tool

The main purpose of this activity is to really hone in on effective strategies that will see your goals better met and many of your excuses eliminated. It is not full proof, nothing ever is but it does bring attention to what you can do as opposed to what you can’t.

Finally, I would like to say that I invented this activity but the truth is I was led through it myself working with a provincial group on Adverse Childhood Experiences. The beauty is that it can be utilized in any sector, business, education or non-profit. Give it a try and see what happens to your end results!!!

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