Today, let’s begin by looking at a true story conveyed to me early in my working career:
A True Story
A number of years ago, I recall a member of senior management telling about an event occurring at another plant. During the final inspection of a lot of glass-syringe injectable product, an error in the labeling was detected. A decimal point was in the wrong place. Instead of stating the dosage as 0.2 mg/mL, it stated 2.0 mg/mL. This was a potentially fatal mislabeling error with no opportunity for rework. The lot disposition was determined to be “reject.”
This labeling error was expensive with a total cost of $2Million. As expected, this was a significant error that was felt across the company. So, the Vice-President, Operations with responsibility for that plant made a visit to the site. Upon meeting with the Plant Manager, the VP said, “I would like to speak with the individual responsible for this error. I want to know who stole $2Million from the company!” (Apparently, the investigation determined that multiple systems and procedural failures had occurred, but there was one individual that had the greatest role in failing to detect and prevent the error.) The Plant Manager asked, “So, you want to speak with this individual because you are going to personally fire him?” The VP responded, “No, I want to speak with him first.”
After speaking with the individual, the VP told the Plant Manager and Head of HR, “No, I’m not planning to fire him. This individual is extremely remorseful. What I did, after hearing his explanation, was to to encourage him. You see, there is probably no one that feels worse about this than him. These last few days have been horrible for him. So, I wanted him to know that we’ll support him in the future. Do you know why I feel this way?” The Plant and Manager was stunned, but stated, “No, I don’t really understand.” The VP said, “This guy will never make this mistake again. I guarantee you that he will become our most diligent and most competent individual in the future. Sometimes, a leader needs to use the heart as much as the brain. In this case, my heart tells me that firing him would be a mistake and we would lose an opportunity to gain a more trusted and skilled employee.”
The individual that made this mistake went on to become one of that company’s best employees rising in responsibility to eventually serve as Director, Manufacturing in charge of that very plant.
Often, when we are in a position to implement actions to prevent a recurrence of an issue, our response is to think only of the short-term situation we face. Taking definitive and direct action to address an issue gives “closure” and satisfies the need to send a message. However, when we fail to take a long-term view of the situation, we may miss an opportunity to do greater good.
When dealing with people, first of all, we must determine if the error was an honest mistake or an intentional one. For example, an individual that intentionally seeks to harm someone, lie, deceive, commit a moral failure, or willfully inflict damage, pain, or injury may not deserve a second chance. However, an error in judgment, or due to poor systems others control, or due to distraction/fatigue/illness, or due to something other than moral failure may merit a second chance. I usually consider heavily the motivation and demeanor of the individual when interviewed after-the-fact. When you see a deep sense of regret or remorse, I tend to look more favorably at mercy. The ultimate decision is difficult. Unless I clearly see the root cause being intentional or willful failure, I would often look at offering a second chance.
As you can see from the story above, it is important to consider the long-term impact of offering a second chance. In the story, the mistake made was a turning point in the career of the individual involved. He used this event as a catalyst for a successful future of growth and leadership. If he had been dismissed at the time, it might have been devastating for the individual AND the company would have lost a significant talent. The short-term gain of make a point, satisfying a need to “fix the problem”, and creating an example for others may have been overwhelming overshadowed by demonstrating a humane and merciful approach.
In short, when faced with a decision about whether you should offer an individual a second chance, ensure that you consider all factors, including the long-term benefit to the individual and organization. Ultimately, you’ll want to apply the the measure of mercy to the individual(s) involved that you would want shown to you, if you would find yourself in a similar circumstance. The final test should always be… how would I want to be treated if the roles were reversed? When you apply this as the standard, you will rarely make the wrong decision.
I am thankful for the second chances I have been given in life. When we have a chance to learn from our mistakes and apply the learnings to our future, we become better. Demonstrating forgiveness can result in benefits and relationships far richer than may ever have occurred otherwise. Is there someone in your life today that deserves that second chance?
Have a great and rewarding day!