My Worst Mistake: The Power and the Pain of Second Chances

Running a business is a process of learning from mistakes in order to better anticipate and avoid them. As top students at the school of hard knocks, we’ve been able to evade most of the big hits that can put a business in jeopardy. However, one mistake proved to be very expensive and exacted an emotional toll far higher than the financial one.   

We have always completed background checks on new employees and been unwavering in our expectations.  While we will overlook youthful indiscretions, this does not extend to stealing, violence or a pattern of bad decision-making.

Chris was our single exception to that rule. He was a young father in his early 30s. He told a compelling story of a troubled childhood, past run-ins with the law and his work to transform himself. He was soft-spoken and convincing. We gave him a chance. At first, we only allowed him to work on outdoor projects.  He was a hard worker and contributed to our process of continuous improvement. During that time, he had another child. He was a proud father and husband.  

We were shocked when Chris was accused of stealing silver from a client.  There had been workers from other companies in the house so we chose to believe that Chris was innocent. Still, we assigned him outside work exclusively for a while. He continued to be diligent and we eventually put him back on an indoor job.

When the stealing happened again we were not just shocked. We were devastated. We immediately reimbursed the families for their financial losses. Of course, we could not repay or replace the most treasured things that were taken from them. We could not compensate for the violation of the families’ sanctuaries or the sentimental value of their items.

I had worked for nearly 20 years to develop our company’s reputation for trustworthiness and caring. That reputation sustained a major blow. As mad as I was at Chris and as tempting as it was to hold him accountable for the entire traumatic experience, his blame did not absolve me of my responsibility.  This was the biggest mistake of my career. I had broken my own rules and it hurt others.

While I continue to believe that people deserve a second chance, I will never again allow that belief to put others at risk.  I count Chris as my hardest lesson from the school of hard knocks. This was a few years ago and the regret still resonates strongly.