Leaders Give Second Chances

One of the toughest calls that a positive, needs-meeting leader must confront is when and how to give a second chance when someone goofs something up. And I choose that phrase “goof something up” deliberately; there are no second chances for clear firing offenses involving safety or the law.

Still, there is so much in the “grey area” – being consistently late; really botching a project; losing a customer because of carelessness.

In the perfect world of Good to Great, we’d just get people in the right seat on the bus in the first place. But the reality of low unemployment, and the time and money suck of turnover keep us in the mode of putting up with low performance.

Understand that “giving a second chance” is different than “looking the other way” or “putting up with little stuff”, because unaddressed “little stuff” can become a big deal over time, draining your energy and rubbing off on others.

When you give a second chance, be deliberate about it, and create a situation where a third chance might not be given.

Assuming you’ve done your work developing a relationship and giving consistent feedback, here’s what this talk might look like:

Schedule a meeting late in the day. At the meeting, share the behavior, or repeated behavior, that’s unacceptable and mustn’t happen again. Then, immediately share the outcome or effect this behavior has on the rest of the team. State clearly that this is unacceptable and can’t happen again, and could even be grounds for dismissal. It’s okay to share that repetition of this behavior will make it clear that this is a “bad fit”.

*Note that this isn’t shaming; this pays the person the respect of directness and shows that you assume positive intent.

Make it clear, then, that this is an offer of a second chance. That you are going to assume this will never happen again. If appropriate, offer to help them understand their job better. Note that there is no discussion of “why” this happened. In fact, this may not be much of a conversation at all. By the time you are to this point, you’ve already given coaching and feedback and had lots of conversations.

At the end, make sure the person agrees to make the needed changes. If they do not, it may be time to move to HR. And, make it clear that if this infraction is repeated, there will not be a third chance.

This process is based partly on experience, and partly on the thoughts expressed in Discipline Without Punishment, a great book for leaders.

Have you had some success with a “second chance” technique? Please share!

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