Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 27, 2017

Mistakes – handle them gracefully

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a movie buff. And as a movie buff, the annual Academy Awards are like Christmas for me. I look forward to it all year and spend the entire evening online with my friends discussing everything that goes on.

Last night’s Oscars had an epic fail when the presenters – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – were given the wrong envelope for the Best Picture award. What followed was everyone’s worst nightmare, as the people from the film announced [but which DID NOT win] were on the stage and halfway through their acceptance speech before the mistake was corrected and announced so the actual winners could get on stage to accept their award.

Mistakes can happen with the best planned situations. Granted, this was a pretty massive mistake, what with a BILLION PEOPLE watching on national television, but still, when you’re dealing with humans, who are, well, human, it happens.

As a communicator, I have experienced my own share of mistakes throughout my career, so this has me thinking about what you do AFTER a mistake happens to try not to make it worse. I think a reminder is always helpful, so, let’s review shall we?

Step 1 –  FIX the mistake AS SOON AS IT IS IDENTIFIED – The Academy Awards did this step and they did it well. The producer of the film that was incorrectly announced first was the person who told the correct winners that a mistake had been made and immediately got them onto the stage to accept their award. I have to give it to that man – he behaved with grace and respect during what has to have been a disappointment of the most monumental proportions in the history of the world for him. Despite that, he was completely focused on letting the correct winners know and get their award. “Kudos” doesn’t begin to cover it here, but well done to him. In the business world, it is just as important to fix any error as soon as it is discovered. Even though, for the most part, we don’t have the entire world watching when a mistake is made in a corporate environment, the people affected by an error we make – whether those are customers, employees or other business partners – are just as displeased, trust me. So the most important thing is to fix a mistake as quickly as you possibly can. Having a leader of the business simply step up to our stakeholders a

Step 2 – APOLOGIZE, if appropriate – the accountants responsible for the Oscar envelopes – the people who physically hand the envelopes to the presenters – Price Waterhouse Coopers were quickly out on Twitter with an apology to all the folks involved. That was, I think the correct way to handle this. First off it was absolutely appropriate in this case to apologize for the embarrassment and the upset this error caused to all involved on the Oscars stage last evening. But as importantly, putting their apology on Twitter ensured that the largest number of people possible saw their apology – what with over a billion people having seen the mistake, and all. And because the world now looks at Twitter to see what people are saying about anything that is “news”they got in front of the situation right away. In the corporate world, whether an apology is appropriate is a bit more involved to determine. Sometimes, apologizing could have legal implications, sometimese apologizing can make a situation worse instead of better. I’m absolutely not saying that corporate errors don’t require apologies, there are plenty of situations where a simple “We made a mistake, and we are sorry for the difficulties it caused” can help to rebuild a relationship damaged by a mistake, and an apology is an important step that should always be carefully and thoughtfully considered. In general, my advice to my leaders is that making an apology is a “yes” until and unless we have a truly compelling reason not to make one. In the vast majority of cases apologizing is the right thing to do.

Step 3 – FIGURE OUT HOW IT HAPPENED & MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T REPEAT – this is probably the hardest, but most critical part of recovering from an error. People will usually forgive you for an honest mistake . . . ONCE. Where last evening’s Oscar mistake is concerned, my bet is that this morning at the L.A. offices of Price Waterhouse Coopers there was a very intense meeting going on to re-vamp their process for envelope management at the Academy Awards going forward. I’m willing to be this will not happen again. As a corporate communicator, part of my job is to help my leadership and my business partners to do a similar process review after a mistake is made. As the communicator, I am connected to our business and its processes, but I am outside the day-to-day things. So I can offer an objective perspective on how we do things now [that allowed a mistake to happen] and how we might adjust to fill the gap that obviously isn’t ideal from a results perspective. This can be a complex process, as corporate processes can be dense and entrenched, so changing them can be challenging. But ultimately, if our processes allowed a mistake to happen that created issues for our business, we need to reconsider them, and take action to address the situation. That’s just good business.

As the talking heads said this morning, the 2017 Best Picture Academy Award winner will forever be remembered by pretty much everyone thanks to what happened at the awards. In the film industry, the old adage that “any publicity is good publicity” is probably true, so the fact that a mistake happened isn’t going to destroy the film industry. In the corporate world, however, sometimes a mistake can have devastating results for the success of the business if it isn’t handled effectively. The steps suggested above, while they sound simple [they really aren’t in practice] can make the difference between weathering a mistake and getting back to business, or spending weeks or months trying to recover instead of doing what we do. As a communicator, it’s my job to help my business get past a mistake quickly, efficiently, and to the benefit of all our stakeholders. I take a lot of pride in the responsibility, and in helping my company and my colleagues to respond to our stakeholders and show them that while we may be human, we also care about the people we work with.


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