Second Chances After Bad Results

It is the reality of human nature that mistakes will be made.  It is the matter of degree and circumstances as to whether second chances are reasonable outcomes or alternatives when mistakes are made.  Whenever a mistake is made or an outcome is less than desired the first question we must answer is this:  why did this result happen?  Bad decision-making, inadequate preparation, poor information…understanding is key to changing future outcomes.

Mistakes Are a Part of Growth

Knowing that mistakes will be made as part of learning and growth is something that is a vital component of our personal and business equation.  How we factor in those mistakes includes our response to the source of the mistake and how we plan to mitigate the consequences as well as the assessment or categorization of the type of mistake – an “honest” mistake, a mistake of judgment, a mistake in analysis, a failure to learn from past mistakes, miscalculation or something more – a deliberate attempt to mislead, defraud, evade, act in an illegal or inappropriate manner, etc.  Did the mistake result from inexperience, from acting too quickly, from inadequate or incomplete information?  Or did the person act solely from his or her own self interest without regard to the consequences to others and the company.

Second chances are due to people who have made choices which didn’t result in the best outcomes but weren’t made with bad intent or disregard of information or consequences.  These people made informed decisions with reasonable expectations of outcomes that didn’t materialize, whether because of unforeseeable circumstances or changes in conditions.  In these situations the lack of results is not from performance issues, or lack of action, or faulty reasoning…

Look for Good Decision-making Processes

The ability to separate the actions and the process used from the results achieved is often a missed opportunity for understanding the performance, processes, and results to get to the root cause of what went right and what went wrong.  Individuals and organizations need to understand that results are frequently outcomes of factors not known, not considered, or impossible to predict.  One of the most significant events of the past decade was the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Many businesses failed in the days, weeks, and months after the tragedy.  Those events and their ripple effects on the economy and markets were not part of the decision making and business models – the people making decisions on how deals would be structured, where opportunities would be sought, and how the markets would be viewed did not in retrospect make good decisions.  However, if the events of 9/11 had not occurred, how would those same decisions have faired?  No one will ever know.

Unanticipated events will have unanticipated consequences.  The question is really this:  should the events have been unanticipated?  An executive analyzing opportunities for her company to decide which project to pursue could not realistically anticipate a 9/11 type event.  The executive could reasonably be expected to anticipate actions a competitor may be taking over the same time period or how a competitor might respond to a new marketing campaign.

When To Give A Second Chance

In analyzing what is a reasonable “second chance” when evaluating the performance of a decision-maker in your organization, it is important to understand that making good decisions is a learned process.  Not every decision will result in a perfect or ideal outcome.  The best you can ask for is that a person utilizes a sound process and is willing to make decisions – not just wait to see what happens.  Taking action is a positive step; letting things happen means other people are making decisions and the outcomes are left up to them.

Decision-making perspective:

  • Gather available data
  • Get relevant information and opinions
  • Recognize that the only time you will be 100% certain of the outcome is when any opportunity for action has passed – certainty exists only in retrospect.
  • Expect a learning curve for making good decisions
  • Begin teaching decision-making skills with small decisions on less critical matters.  Build experience and expertise by increasing the type, scope, and nature of the decisions being made.
  • Analyze the results – good or bad – to learn from the process and the variables

Practice, practice, practice.  Decision-making is a finally honed tool everyone should have. Organization cannot afford to limit its use, especially when outcomes are not due to poor decision making but are the result of other factors.

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