Everyone else is writing about it, so we may as well discuss it, too. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, by now you are well familiar with the enormous gaffe at the end of the Oscars on Sunday night. For those of you walking out of your cave, here’s a quick rundown: Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had the honor of presenting the award for Best Picture. One entered from stage right, the other entered from stage left. They made their opening spiel, and introduced the films that had been nominated. Then, it was time for the big moment. They opened the envelope, read from the card, looked up to the crowd and the millions across the world watching on television…
And all hell broke loose.
They each paused for a long time, and looked at each other as if they didn’t know what to do. The audience laughed, thinking they were trying to create some fun tension. Then Ms. Dunaway took to the mike and announced that La La Land was the winner.
No one was particularly surprised—I understand it’s a great film (I haven’t seen it), and it’s been cleaning up at the other awards shows. The La La Land cast and team swarmed the stage to accept the award, and began offering their thanks. There was a problem, though: they hadn’t won. The card had actually read, “Emma Stone—La La Land,” and was the card for another category. Extreme embarrassment ensued, and Beatty and the La La Land folks had to practically drag the real winner—Moonlight—up on stage. (After all, when your presenters are most famous for their roles in Bonnie & Clyde, you may be forgiven some skepticism.)
So what happened? The Academy posts assistants at each end of the stage with a stack of identical cards. Each co-presenter enters from opposite ends, and the presenter for that category gets a card. The assistant on the other side is then supposed to set his or her card for that category aside, not to be used. Sounds like a pretty good system, right? It’s always worked before, right? That didn’t happen here, though, and Beatty and Dunaway found themselves in a most uncomfortable position (although Steve Harvey is now off the hook).
Any system, regardless how well conceived, is bound to throw out a mistake at some point. The Oscars mishap is a good reminder not to substitute systems for your superior judgment. HR is in many ways a function of systems. Payroll is very systematized. Monitoring and compliance under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is often systematized, especially in larger organizations. Timekeeping systems run the gamut. Employers spend significant time and money devising these systems to render accurate data and results, just as they should.
However, even the best and most tried-and-true system is going to fail you at some point. Maybe some data will be entered incorrectly by mistake. Maybe a million other things will happen. These mistakes can cause significant problems on down the road; for example, a small fractional error could lead to an employee (or many employees) getting shorted on pay over time. Or someone on FMLA won’t get his or her full leave entitlement due to a mistake. The point here is not to surrender the final judgment to the system. If the system gives you a card that doesn’t look quite right, you shouldn’t trust the system over your own best judgment.
If you’re not comfortable with what you’re seeing, go back and check. Confirming that the right card was in the presenters’ hands would have been much less embarrassing at the Oscars than trying to correct the mistake in the middle of a celebration. The same will go for any situations with your employees.