Todd Dewett | August 29, 2018
At work and in life, I believe in second chances.
As an observer of many professionals, I know that at work not everyone agrees with me. I think I understand where they are coming from. I mean, if you hold yourself to high standards, shouldn’t others do the same? You also believe strongly in accountability, which is the backbone of any decent performance management system. True, but it’s important to consider the bigger picture.
First, you are not necessarily normal. Maybe in some ways you’re a superstar. Great, but can everyone be a superstar? Also, remember that all humans are wonderfully imperfect. It’s to be expected that performance issues will pop up. The real issue is how to manage them effectively. Finally, recall that before you were a superstar, you were a person clawing your way up a learning curve, making mistakes like everyone else.
As a result, the more productive approach is to not overreact to one big mistake, but rather to seek to understand why it happened, and begin looking for a pattern as opposed to a single incident. That first mistake, well, it’s just strike one. It’s an interesting piece of data but not usually one that wholly defines the person. Try the three strikes rule.
The beauty of using this approach is that it perfectly balances your need for accountability and your need to help and develop others. Each strike matters and should be documented for your files (not for their personnel file unless the issue is clearly significant). Coaching begins following the first strike and continues until the matter is resolved or strike three arrives. Take each step with kindness and positivity. Clarify expectations, identify resources, and provide assistance.
If strike three happens and you end up changing their role, demoting them, or letting them go, you will have arrived at this point in a just manner. Sure, there are exceptions – behaviors that warrant immediate termination (e.g., breaking laws), but the rule is to use three strikes to give them an opportunity to improve.
It makes sense when you think about it. First, you might help them take a legitimate step forward and develop into a quality employee who consistently meets expectations. Second, it’s just the right thing to do. Remember, we are all imperfect and performance issues are expected. Finally, even if you’re a superstar, you are imperfect too. At some point you will be faced with the need to apologize for a lapse in judgement, a bad decision, or underperformance. Exactly how would you like to be treated?
I believe the same thinking applies in life, not just at work. Second chances matter. Should any of us be judged by just one thing? Sure, some mistakes are so egregious they might end up defining us forever (e.g., engaging in violent crime), but even then, I’d still make the argument for a second chance as the preferable alternative (among admittedly difficult choices).
The implications for all of your relationships are quite clear. We should attempt to understand, forgive, heal, and improve. Simplistic judging and denouncement are rarely the best choices. They might feel momentarily justified, but they are not ultimately helpful. Just like at work, you are best served to forgive and help, because the better goal is accountability, not condemnation.
Depending on the thought system you’ve adopted in life, you might believe there is a class of behaviors that renders a person forever stained. A type of behavior that labels someone a problem person, beyond repair. The teenager arrested repeatedly for drug possession. The spouse who cheats. The professional who lied, bringing shame to the entire organization. The violent criminal. Yes, life can be difficult to say the least, but it’s certainly not black and white.
Don’t get me wrong, bad behaviors should lead to consequences that matter. These might include investigations, fines, reprimands, demotions, terminations, interventions, counseling, lawsuits, divorce, or other appropriate outcomes. However, when thinking about these possibilities, I’m reminded of that well-known passage, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Society might not always value this sentiment, and maybe that’s somewhat necessary. However, on a personal level I think it’s excellent food for thought.
To those in need of a second chance: if you get one – wake up, be grateful, get to work! For the rest of you, well, I certainly can’t advocate for giving endless second chances, but I do believe you must remember the three strikes rule. Sometimes life throws curveballs. It’s best to give the batter a few chances before sending them back to the dugout.