Second Chances -- A Fresh Set of Downs

Dec 16 / Julie Jones
I am a huge fan of Ohio State and college football. This year was supposed to be THE season for a BUCKEYE national championship-- the talent, coaches, and schedule aligned for a storybook ending. Except that games are played on the field and not based on media projections. The team and coaches that showed up on November 26th to play Michigan were not in sync. You could feel the disbelief grow in the stadium as the game went on. Michigan clearly bested Ohio State on that day. Fans exited the stadium, wondering what had happened.

The main Oval, or central hub on campus, was quiet on the Monday after the loss  - students were still processing THE game and that Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time in Ohio Stadium since 2000. Many of the students weren’t even born yet.

I can’t imagine the emotions the team felt when their bubble was burst. How did the coaches help the team process their emotions, given the public shame heaped upon them? How did the team focus when they no longer controlled their fate?

When you work in an operation’s field, services aren’t provided from a plan on paper but rather from people aligned to a common purpose. Unfortunately, stuff happens. Services aren’t executed well. Leaders fail to recognize when they must pivot and adjust. There are lapses in customer service. Customers judge your services at each service point. They evaluate how well you played TODAY. Yelp reviews or 5-star ratings don’t matter.

Unfortunately, many of these service failures are more public, thanks to social media. People can be harsh critics and may only provide a portion of the story, fueling “shared” criticism by others. Others judge situations and people quickly and hit send for a public post. Then, leaders are pressed into responding and reacting publicly even for short delays in service. Previously, these issues could be handled one on one instead of one to many.

It is hard to recover from “shared” criticism and shame. After the game, Coach Ryan Day said “It’s gonna leave a mark for a while…. I feel awful for the players; it’s a failure.” As a leader, he acknowledged the emotions and the lack of execution. Day went on to say, “It all comes back on me; I’m the head coach, and that’s what probably hurts the most.” He took accountability for the loss and the leadership of the team. But within a few days, they had the team back in the Woody Hayes Athletic facility running drills noting that getting back into a usual routine helps shift the mindset-- the equivalent of getting back on a horse once it’s thrown you.

The same things occur within your team after service failures or publicly shared comments. How can you acknowledge the situation for the team, take accountability to improve, and then bring the team in as part of the return to usual operations?  

So, what happens when you get a second chance or a new set of downs?

Utah helped the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff by beating the USC Trojans in the PAC-12 championship game. Can the Buckeyes shift their mindset to get back in the game? How do they recover their mojo-- their self-confidence when it has been rocked so publicly?

Second chances are an opportunity for redemption. Coaches and players must undertake the work required for personal growth and development. They must shed the shame and prove what they are capable of.

Second chances can also be scary -- what happens if things don’t work out? The coaches and team will have to manage the apprehension and anxiety associated with a second chance. That’s where mindset comes in -- the BELIEF and CONVICTION that they can change their story. Remember The Little Engine that Could? A positive mindset shifts the little engine’s language from I THINK I can to I KNOW I can.

Service recovery is a tool used in customer-facing operations and this recovery provides a second chance. How can you alter the customer’s impression or experience? What steps can you take to make a positive difference? Like the Buckeyes, you might need to look at what you must do differently to execute more consistently. What did you learn from the experience that you can apply in a second chance?

As Bill Gates said, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Second chances are the opportunity to learn, grow, become better, and build resilience within your team. I’m confident that the Buckeyes can apply the lessons learned from the Michigan loss. But it’s now time for the coaches and players to create their 2022 storybook ending. I believe it’s their time to shine!