And then the big moment comes…the designated speaker of the Board takes to the mic…
“And the special project goes to…Jenny Johnson’s team!!”
Thunderous applause!! Jenny and her team members high-five one another. Then they shuffle to the podium, where Jenny joins the speaker by the mic and starts talking about how psyched she is to seize this opportunity, and how excited she is to get to work with the great people around her--
Suddenly a frenzied Chair of the Board is seen making a hasty entrance, mumbling something inaudible into Jenny’s ear, and then snatching the gold-rimmed folder from her as her face goes pale. Eventually, with an embarrassed grin, the Chair pronounces, half-hiding behind the mic:
“There has been a mistake. The special project really goes to Johnny Jackson’s team. Congratulations, folks. Sorry, Jenny.”
Words like “disappointment” and “frustration” hardly begin to describe what Jenny and her team are going through at that moment. The same goes for Johnny and his team if you attempt to encapsulate their experience with the word “anticlimactic.”
All this, of course, is the corporate analogy of the drama that played out at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Oscar Night 2017. The mistake was on the part of PwC, the accounting firm on which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has relied for the past 83 years for a seamless show of Academy Award winners. PwC did apologize, and did follow up with statements providing adequate transparency about the way things went down.
PwC’s was not the first public apology I noticed, though, for this worst mishap in the history of the Oscars. The first public apology I noticed came from the Academy. Okay, there may be a ready explanation for that: with a live audience of tens of millions of people, the Academy’s immediate reaction would naturally be the one seen and heard first and foremost.
The Academy, of course, was not to blame. The apology coming from the Academy was appropriate to put a quick Band-Aid on the situation. That Band-Aid was bound to burst, though, and the fallout from this mishap has not yet subsided as of this writing.
Own Up—Fess Up—Make Up
Some commentators and analysts have speculated about the Academy taking action against PwC in the wake of this major mishap, possibly cutting ties altogether. That remains speculation, and in my opinion, it would be too drastic a consequence.
Mistakes happen, and when they happen, it is for the culprit to do their best to fix them. That’s how you deal with mistakes professionally: you give the culpable party a chance to control the damage and to better the situation.
So far, PwC seems to be on the right track in owning up—meaning, blame was not shifted to others or the circumstances. PwC also, in a way, fessed up—although that was more like pointing the finger at a fall guy (in releasing the name of the PwC partner who handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty).
But make up? Can a critical moment gone awry like that ever be made up for? The La La Land team had a brief illusion of Best Picture triumph at the Oscars, only to have it go Poof!! like the mirage it was. Likewise, the Moonlight team never did get to enjoy their moment of triumph that is ushered in by an exuberant announcement and received with the applause that follows the satisfaction of suspense at its climax. That moment was thwarted, and is gone forever.
The question, then, becomes how those at the receiving end handle their fate.
A Shot at Greatness in the Aftermath of Screw-Ups
Both the La La Land and Moonlight teams have received praise for carrying themselves with grace under the circumstances. They have continued their show of grace by not demanding the PwC individual in question be fired.
In December 2015, at the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas, Ariadna Gutiérrez (Miss Colombia) was pronounced the winner, and received the crown along with deafening cheers from the crowd. A good two minutes later, things turned seriously awkward when it was announced she was really the first runner-up, and the actual winner was Miss Philippines.
Shortly after that flub, Ariadna Gutiérrez released a public statement that was quoted in a Web article describing it as “classy and inspiring,” “refreshingly sweet,” and “humble and real.” Perhaps Gutiérrez knew that, while the win had eluded her, she still had a shot at emerging a victorious figure, showing forgiveness for the culprit and class beyond the competition.
Let’s go back to the above scenario with Jenny Johnson’s and Johnny Jackson’s teams. I made it all up, of course.
Can you take it from here? How do you think that scenario will play out? Will the designated speaker of the Board suffer any disciplinary action, after getting “Johnson” and “Johnny” mixed up?
Is there a potential for a show of greatness on the part of Jenny and her team? Perhaps a potential for lasting prestige beyond just that one special project?