Second Chance

Second Chance

     Moving through the office hallway to the meeting I regret attending, but something has to be done.  Jon had been a top performer and a promising promote just twelve months ago.  Unfortunately, the rising star has fallen.  Staying in the role was no longer an option and there was only one question left:  removal from the company or a second chance.


     By its very nature, talent management planning is about upside:  designating strategic roles, attracting and nurturing talent with potential, providing great development and plotting the next moves to maximize growth and impact.  It’s the fun part of the job and Jon had been a stellar product of this work, until now.


     I have just a few minutes to gather my thoughts before entering the room where Jon’s business and function boss would meet to debate the second chance option.  While considering the case for the last few days, I formulated a simple five-point checklist to guide the conversation and hopefully reach the right decision for all concerned.



Question One:  Did Jon cross the integrity line?

     If yes, then no second chance.  Fortunately in Jon’s case, ethics and values were never in doubt.  The root issue stemmed from other issues.  One trap here is if the track record of performance has been so superior that there is a temptation to issue a temporary pass on organization values and ethics.  The best organizations make the so-called ‘tough call’ to dismiss the high performing, low value leader.  We all wish more would do so.



Question Two:  Does Jon have the skills to win?

     The current role could be such a mismatch for Jon that odds of growing the necessary skills for success are quite low.  In that case, more time in role or development interventions are wasted time and energy.  The issue then becomes does Jon have valuable skills– differential competencies – which the organization needs.  If so, then the discussion should center around other positions where Jon could succeed where the new role is valuable.  The trap is to ‘replant’ a performance issue into a holding role which really doesn’t do any good for the organization or the self-esteem of the performer.



Question Three:  Does Jon still have the sponsorship to succeed?

     Even with a good second chance role, Jon may not make it without continuing sponsorship.  Some cultures and leaders are more forgiving of a performance mis-step than others.  As I think about the conversation with Jon’s manager, I want to test the confidence and commitment.   Are we committed to brining the best out of Jon in the new role?   If there is hesitation, my experience is that we are delaying a bad situation and possibly making matters worse down the road as Jon tries to rebound without the necessary support from above.  The same holds true for peers and other stakeholders.  Also, the organization talent strategy comes into play.  Some places manage talent as temporary stops along the great external highway of careers and others try to provide more long term lodging for high performers and high potentials … even for those who slip a bit.



Question Four:  Does Jon have the resiliency to recover here?

      Being removed from a job after 12 months is hard on the ego, especially a high-flyer who has done well in previous roles.  Even with the right amount of boss and organization-wide support, I’ve seen ‘second-chancers’ never fully recover.  They lose their ambition, innovation and boldness necessary to win.  Jon will need to have the resilience to learn the lessons of failure and use the experience to build new levels of self-insight and determination.   



Question Five:  Are we all better off with a fresh start?

     The final question is about balancing interests.  First, in fairness to company, do we have a good backfill for Jon right now and other promising candidates to fill roles which would be Jon’s second chance job?  A weak pipeline needs to be one of the considerations for next moves.  I know it’s a selfish and organization-centric question, but it needs to be asked.  Second, would a fresh start at a new company, a new setting, be better in the long run for Jon?  This question feels a bit more caring but is also a difficult one to ask.  Usually, by time this fifth, two-part query arrives, the weight of the conversation is clearly leaning in or out.



     Speaking of weight, my heart starts to sink a bit as I turn the corner and see the meeting room up ahead.  This discussion won’t be easy and even with these five questions to guide, the emotions of deciding Jon’s options will be high.  Talent management is about doing our best when things turnout well and also times when it doesn’t.    

© Kevin D. Wilde