How One Simple Mistake Got Impressive Results

Posted by Amanda Nieweler

on February 28, 2017

Many will question how compliance played a role in the Oscar envelope handoff#EnvelopeGate… yes it has its own hashtag

Of course something so utterly shocking is going to get its own hashtag.

By all accounts in the media coverage so far, on the Oscar flub that is sure to go down in history, one simple employee mistake that would go against anybody’s better judgement (certainly under these circumstances) is allegedly to blame for why the Internet blew up, and is still aflame over the ‘best picture’ Oscar award blunder… and will be talked about for some time!

If anything, the gaping jaws strung along the first few rows of the stage, belonging to Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, and Dwayne Johnson (my personal favourite expression), say it all.

A Super Duper OOPS!

What you can count on is this is the biggest screw up in Oscar history! And you can chalk it up to a star-struck employee.

The theory is this PwC employee got side tracked by being in close proximity to Emma Stone, and decided to snap a pic.

Here’s how it works for the Oscars. PwC uses two complete sets of the winning envelopes, with one placed on each side of the stage. A PwC partner was handling one side of the stage, and another partner was handling the other. One partner, awed over Emma Stone’s recent Oscar win, handed actor Warren Beatty the wrong envelope announcing what he thought was the winner of best picture. The envelope in question was actually Best Actress in a Leading  Role… the very recent Emma Stone win (remember, two sets of envelopes, one at either side of the stage).

This alone, many feel, is a mix-up waiting to happen… wait, it did!

Theoretically, this very envelope should have been sent to the back of the pile, to make room for the next winning envelope next on the agenda.

The story is that this partner in question posted on Twitter a photograph of Ms. Stone backstage shortly after she won the award for best actress, and this, minutes before the mix-up happened. The employee got sidetracked and lost focus.

So like any organization, it comes down to an honestly simple mistake an employee allegedly made, but one that will have such a huge and lasting impression on the company PwC, and The Academy.

There’s got to be a lesson to be learned in here somewhere. Every situation provides learning opportunities.

It may ultimately end up boiling down to human error. Something that can happen in any company, in any industry. No company is immune, whether a mistake is made intentionally or not.

The reputational damage can be very severe.

Brands go to extraordinary lengths to protect their image and reputation. History is littered by examples of reputation failures, like Lance Armstrong, and business giant BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Most companies have employees scattered in all directions, with varying degrees of responsibilities. It can be hard to get a handle on absolutely everything each employee does from day to day in their roles.

This is why it is so important for companies to set in motion a strong Code of Ethics. The rules and protocol that should govern how each employee, from the top down, conducts their daily business.

It’s also equally important that the company ensures that each employee, from new recruits, to those who have been employed a while, know and understand the importance of the Code of Ethics, and how it is used to ensure that every employee get the most from their jobs, and the jobs get the most from the employees.

It might also be a lesson learned for the Oscar Award process to not have duplicate winning envelopes – which many agree played a factor in the mix-up. There’s always room for process improvement after all, ways to help employees improve, not make mistakes.

This is not to say that PwC hasn’t done its due diligence on training employees on the Code, and other processes.

Mistakes are bound to happen. This one just happens to have been viewed by millions. And now millions are judging PwC, including existing clients.

PwC will be busy for a little while patching up a reputation and trying to move on from an event that will more than likely leave a permanent scar.

So perhaps the lesson in this unfortunate event is for every company to ensure their Code of Ethics and other policies are up to date, and that their employees are aware of these, and have acknowledged them.

Employees should know what the company deems unacceptable or unethical behaviour, and use this knowledge in how they conduct their daily activities.

The downside for this partner employee, he’s got to live with the judgments coming at him right and left for a long time. On the bright side, he’s got a totally amazing story to share for many years.

eBook: 10 Best Practices to Build a Strong Compliance Program