Assisting The Rebound

Assisting The Rebound

     When a star performer stumbles in a new assignment, there are two decisions to be made.  The organization makes the first one: should we give the employee a second chance? 

With an affirmative choice, the employee then makes the second choice:  will I give myself a second chance?


     A second chance decision by the company is usually one made up of a number of affirmative elements.  The talented employee’s lack of acceptable performance in the current role is not due to an ethical lapse.  In the long run, the skills and competencies to succeed are there but the present job needed something else.  There is still solid support from key stakeholders and sponsors.  The second chance role inside the organization is a better option for all concerned.  And the employee will recover, with the ambition, innovation and self-confidence shown in prior roles.

     I found high performers are often the toughest critic when they turn in their first shaky performance.  It isn’t uncommon after series of successful stretch assignments for a shooting star to hit the wall.  What sometimes follows is self-doubt as the regular ‘A’ talent sees a report card with much lower marks.

     So smart talent management in these ‘save’ situations is to carefully guide the employee to regain performance traction and self-confidence in specific phases.



     The first rebound phase comes with the conversation about changing jobs.   Managers should  be direct and clear on the need for a change.  Bosses are understandably nervous about providing anything negative to a high potential employee.  Their fear is a negative reaction, resulting in the employee believing he or she has failed in such a way that career support has been lost and the future prospects are better outside the company. 

     While that is a risk, the employee knows that current performance is falling short and generally appreciates being told the truth rather than having to buy into a ‘sugar coated’ story about the needed change.  Moreover, there are valuable lessons to learn in a stretch assignment that resulted in stumble.  Obscuring the facts loses the potential growth and may plant the seeds for a blind-spot that becomes a derailment later in the career. 

     The point is to deliver the message and conduct the conversation is such as way as to show respect, empathy and support for the employee.  Remember the key decision here is helping the employee give themselves a second chance in the organization.  The rebound in self-confidence and lessons in resiliency are set in motion in the first meeting.  The employee needs to  hear that the change in role is the result of careful consideration and the support will continue.


     The second rebound phase is the early journey in the new role.  Employees will be sensing and internalizing the signals that will either rebuild or tear down self-confidence.  The quality of the assignment matters first.  While timing may necessitate a ‘holding pattern’ slot which provides movement out of a failing situation, it’s much better for the next role to provide a high level of challenge and engagement.  Along with a new role that is developmental, there should be opportunities for early wins.  Early success in the rebound role has a reinforcing benefit for both the employee to regain positive momentum and resonates well with the organization reminding everyone of the value of the employee.  If a holding pattern role is the only option, then work quickly to find a more suitable role otherwise you risk losing the employee who sees the “career progress clock” ticking loudly and views the new assignment as losing time.

     Positioned skillfully, a very useful way to show support is to demonstrate investment in ongoing development.  Sponsorship to a high profile executive education program is one way show commitment.  A related step may be to provide specific training to shore up a deficiency in needed differentiated competencies, such as strategic thinking, influence and technical mastery. Providing coaching and mentoring to help the employee process the lessons learned in the old assignment is another positive move and often the most important one to assist the high potential deepen resiliency and rekindle the fire to win anew.

     Another early signal is the quality of the support from sponsors and other key organization stakeholders.  Ongoing mentoring and key management visibility in the new role sends the right signal:  we value you and believe this new role will be important to the organization and your career.  On the other hand, old supporters and others who now avoid or act uncomfortably around the employee sends a mixed message of doubt and insincerity in support.


     All the messages need to align well for a talented high potential to recover.  The work of a talent management leader is to orchestrate the organization decisions and help the employee decide to make the most of the second chance.

© Kevin D. Wilde