The Prodigal Employee: Role of SECOND CHANCES within organizations

For this my son was dead, and is alive again;

He was lost, and is found.

And they began to be merry

- Parable of the Prodigal Son, The Bible (Gospel of Luke)

Of the many characteristics of an organization’s culture, one that hardly gets discussed is the role of second chances. Yet it is among the strongest influencers of one thing the corporate world is obsessed about: innovation.

Consider these…

  1. Reference checks: “The favorite tool of revenge”

I have heard many managers say with relish how they gave a bad reference check for an employee who was at logger-heads with them. Often reference check may go awry if you had differences of opinion with the person giving the reference. You won’t get a second chance not only inside that organization, but also outside it.

2. Exit feedback: “Don’t burn bridges”

While some employees wait to give feedback at the exit stage, resignation being their only tool to make themselves heard, a large majority of employees do not give any meaningful feedback during exit interviews for the fear of burning bridges. They withhold feedback, which would have benefited the organization, for the fear that they may never be rehired by that company because individuals will “take offense”.

3. Career moves: “What if I can’t come back, if I don’t like it”

Very few employees take the risk of taking up different roles in organizations (specially anything outside their functional specializations), while many more would like to do so. What stops them is the worry that if things don’t go well, they won’t get a chance to return to that earlier function; or a second chance to try something new in future.

4. Decision making: “S-Y-A phenomenon”

Pardon my language, I can’t help that this is a nearly official corporate acronym — and I must expand it to remove any ambiguity for readers. I mean Save-Your-A**. Many team members abhor their leader for being spineless and not being able to take a firm decision, when the situation calls for one. Those who have observed, from close quarters, this hesitation to take a decision, will know that those managers and leaders were trying to save their you-know-what. And it again it stems from the fear that should they make a mistake, there will be no forgiveness for them.

I could go on with such examples, but I think you get the point.

A lot of behaviors get driven by the fear of — “I will not get a SECOND CHANCE”

Recently Google’s Project Aristotle was in news. They studied 180 teams, to find the secret sauce to team effectiveness. Of the 5 traits they finally isolated from the study, one happened to be psychological safety.

It simply means, and I quote from the article, “everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions”

Incase we haven’t heard it loud and clear, let me repeat that.

People feeling OKAY to make mistakes, ask questions and to not be judged
Is one of the MOST important conditionsof creating high performing teams

In other words..

An organization that fosters a culture of high performance, is one that..
fosters a culture of giving people a SECOND CHANCE

Cultivating this culture needs deep attention to a rather undiscussed human quality — forgiveness.

Forgiveness seems a misfit and odd topic in an organizational discussion. We discuss empathy, but not forgiveness. Yet, second chances have so much to do with practicing forgiveness.

Organizational behavior is not how the walls, loos and LAN act up.
Organizational behavior is the collective behavior of individual human beings

And human beings hold grudges, take revenge, at times forgive.

  • You messed up on your boss’s pet project…
  • You asked a tough question to your CEO in an open forum
  • You, the favorite of your boss who promoted you last season, want to “leave him” and try out a different role, which does not go well a year down the line..oops..

So, a discussion on second chances and psychological safety cannot happen without a discussion on how forgiveness is practiced in different organizational situations.

Not empathy. Forgiveness.

I am keen to know about any organization which practices forgiveness either as a value or even better, a competency.

The Biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son (“Prodigal” means “extravagant”; also “bountiful”), the younger of a man’s two sons takes his inheritance and travels to another city to live a lavish life. Famine strikes the new place, and the son is suddenly left in a destitute condition, and soon decides to return to his father with the intention of asking to be taken as a servant.

Then begins the part which is really the essence of the story. Even before the son begins to plead, the father embraces him, calls for a celebration. When the elder brother is upset to see this, given he had stuck to his father’s side all this while, and worked hard… his father says..

“For this my son was lost, and is found…”

The tale is not so much about the son, as it is about the father who had the wisdom to see beyond what the son did against what he might have wished. The father saw the learning, the son had because of that experience. The father gives his son a second chance; and does so without judging the son.

A prodigal employee could be anyone…

  • One who took an extravagant risk with trying a new idea
  • One who took an extravagant liberty to ask a difficult question
  • One who took an extravagant shot at a different kind of role

And then those don’t work…or sometime they actually do.

Prodigal Employees may not act according to what the organization or manager thinks is the best or most convenient way. But in doing so, they push the boundaries of what is possible (think of the elder brother in the story who did not explore anything beyond his father’s property. But the younger one, can now contribute better to the trade, because he has seen what is beyond)

Innovation is often operating at the realm of the unknown and unfamiliar.
And not everyone is comfortable with pushing boundaries.
Perhaps what innovative organizations need are a few..
prodigal employees..

And a part of encouraging that is, then the preparedness to welcome the…

Return of the Prodigal Employee…

Should they fail, the preparedness to give them a Second Chance…

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(Disclaimer: No part of this blog maybe copied or reproduced or reused or republished in any way, except to share either using the share feature of LinkedIn or posting a direct link to this blog — An excerpt from the blog may be quoted while sharing it in the above mentioned manner. Any other form of reuse, must be only after explicit written consent of the author. You could connect with the author on LinkedIn using the link given below.

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Swati Jena is a writer and entrepreneur. While she writes on a wide variety of subjects, her favorite topics are leadership, culture, artificial intelligence, education and ‘self’.

She is the author of a unique book on entrepreneurship, called:

The Entrepreneur’s Soulbook — Is it your cup of tea? Link to the book

Swati is the founder of GhostWritersWorld (LinkedIn Page)/(website)

Her other articles include:

Technology & product

  1. “If Robots will do everything, what will humans do”: Why AI Rhetoric deeply worries me
  2. “Justice delayed is justice denied”: Could AI and Data Science be the answer to India’s judicial backlog?
  3. Flirt with your product ideas, don’t fall in love
  4. LOL … driverless cars for India??: When AI meets Cows, Rajinikanth and Ganpati
  5. Love in the time of Artificial Intelligence: Valentine’s Day 2030
  6. “Who pays the price?”: Why PRODUCT INNOVATION without SERVICE EXCELLENCE hurts customers — the ETHICS of product innovation

Leadership and Organization

  1. “We will get back to you”: Why recruiters may need to fear for their OWN jobs in the near future
  2. “If you are nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it”: 3 cardinal tests for anyone who calls himself leader
  3. 3 unforgettable lessons I learnt from an Indian Ed Tech Leader
  4. “Oh! You are sensitive”: Why sensitive is a TABOO word — and LEADERS should consciously HIRE such people in teams
  5. “I love solving problems”: The BIG problem with problem solving
  6. “So why are you leaving?”: Don’t treat retention discussions like a ONE TIME date
  7. Sophisticated-fear-based-management: 3 unmistakable signs
  8. Interns or cheap labor? Making internship count
  9. “Travis may be Uber, but Uber cannot be Travis: The curious case of Charismatic leaders”

Diversity and Inclusion

  1. “Women can’t code because of Biology: 3 reasons it was a BIG MISTAKE for google to fire James Damore (perspectives of a feminist)
  2. 3 taboo questions Millennials are asking, leaving hiring managers shocked
  3. Why the ‘Corporate-style Women’s Day Celebrations’ gives me the creeps
  4. The OOUCH of maternity leaves: Why managers secretly dread it
  5. Man or Woman? Who should lead gender diversity? Why we are simply asking the WRONG question.
  6. “She has good figure”: Why creating a safe place to work takes much more than just sexual harrassment policy


1.”But I have bills to pay..”: Why the PREMISE we build our life on, DECIDES how far we will go..

2. “How is life? Well, going on.”: Why you should NOT quit your job, but GRADUATE from it

3.The Monkey Catcher’s Lesson: Why we get stuck in our jobs, situations, emotions..

4. “Anger is remembered pain”: 3 steps to healing from difficult experiences at workplace

5. “How is life? Well, going on..”: Why you should NOT quit your job, but GRADUATE from it

6. A “50-over-50” list: Pressures of adults “growing up” in a world of over-achieving youngsters

7. The (difficult) art of doing nothing and why it matters in a world proud of “busy”

8. 500 Uber rides without driver talking on the phone: My personal starfish story

9. “Here is a muffin that will make you successful”: The unspoken truth about success

10. 5 reasons we should “stop fighting” for a cause

11. “You are hiding something”: 4 reasons we find it difficult to trust those we love

12. “Pick your battles”: Fine, but how?


  1. The Yin and Yang of Ed-Tech: Will schools even survive the next 10 years?
  2. Why we “grown-ups” are the biggest reason the education system must change urgently
  3. “No chair for teacher”: Is it time we do away with this regressive and myopic policies