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Why The Investigation Into Will Smith’s Behavior At Oscars Ceremony Will Take Time—And Patience
From:
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Thursday, April 7, 2022


The cover of Edward Segal's book on crisis management
 

 

Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award- Winning Book "Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies " (Nicholas Brealey)

Speed is important in any crisis, including how quickly it is addressed, resolved and investigated. But don't hold your breath waiting for an outcome to the investigation of Will Smith's behavior at Sunday's Academy Awards. The Academy's letter to members last night said the process "will take several weeks."

The good news is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wasted no time responding to the Smith-Rock crisis that unfolded before an international television audience of tens of millions of people. It immediately issued an initial statement, followed up with a longer message the next day and announced its investigation a day after that.

The Academy reiterated its position about the incident, saying, "We are upset and outraged that [the awards] were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior on stage by a nominee. To be clear, we condemn Mr. Smith's actions that transpired Sunday night."

Today, attention is centered on what the Academy will do and how it will be done.

Process

Process and procedures are as important as speed in a crisis. Without getting into the details, the Academy said that 'the official process" will be "…governed by California law regarding members of nonprofit organizations like the Academy, and set forth in our Standards of Conduct…"

The Washington Post reported that, "The academy said Wednesday it is providing Smith with 'at least 15 days' notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions, and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response. 'When the board meets again, it 'may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions.'"

Credibility

Although the credibility of crisis investigators is critical, the Academy said nothing about the credentials and qualifications of those who will look into Smith's behavior at the awards ceremony other than to say, "As outlined in our bylaws, the Academy's Board of Governors will now make a determination on appropriate action for Mr. Smith. 

''As governed by California law regarding members of nonprofit organizations like the Academy, and set forth in our Standards of Conduct…''

Asking For Trust

The Academy made this request: "Please trust that the Board of Governors will conduct this process in a manner that is both expedient and respectful of all involved while maintaining the standards of the Academy."

Updates

Given the public's interest in the crisis, the Academy said it would keep people posted about the progress of the investigation. "We will continue to update you on any developments, but we also ask that you respect your Board, Academy staff and the process as this unfolds so it can work in the considered way it was intended and mandated," the statement said.

'In The Middle Of The Debate'

Stefano Fracchiolla and Maria Lafuente Soria are the cofounders and joint CEOs at digital marketing agency Serendipity Marketing. They said that considering all the shock and movement that the Smith-Rock episode has generated in the last couple of days, the Academy finds itself in the middle of the debate.

''Was Rock's joke of bad taste? Yes. Was Smith's reaction justified? Absolutely not. Even if Smith might have had his reason to make Rock know his point of view, a similar reaction is always out of line and wrong—as Smith himself states in his public apologies on social media."

Fracchiolla and Lafuente said that"…the Academy should conduct the investigation itself in an internal manner to affirm its position about the fact and take the remedies of the case."

Timeline 'May Be Alarming'

Jerome Cleary, the CEO of PublicityAndMarketing.com, observed that the investigation's timeline, "…may be alarming to the public because the public may feel that the Academy is trying to put it off and delay hoping that the outrage will die down."

Keeping The Investigation In-House

Cleary thought that "the Academy probably will not use an outside source to do the investigation even if the general public or someone else would like them to as they would like to keep it in-house so it doesn't spin out of control further and keep it private."

Cali Estes, a clinical psychologist and professor of ethics training, thought that, "It is unethical for the Academy to conduct its own investigation...it's my opinion that you need a third, non-partial party to investigate the incident and research any previous issues between the parties involved."  

Sending A Confusing Message

"The message sent from the Academy may be confusing on two levels because one, it may appear that they're taking care of it and then two, the members of the Academy may feel like they're not taking care of it quick[ly] enough," Cleary noted.

Setting A Precedent

Cleary cautioned that, "The Academy also has to be very careful the way they handle this because it sets a precedent in a work environment event where people will be concerned [if] people going to be safe from harm. This may also lead up to the labor union SAG AFTRA addressing the same problem that labor union members need to be safe from harm.

The End Result

Estes noted, "Unfortunately, the public is demanding an answer now, and it's very divided. I think revoking Will Smith's Oscar is extreme. However, if they do nothing, it sends the message that violence towards comedians is the norm. 

"Either way, the Academy has a difficult decision ahead of them that the divided public will most likely find fault with either way," she concluded.

Advice For Business Leaders

  • Transparency and full disclosure are important when investigating a crisis.
  • Make it as easy as possible for people to understand the process and the procedures that will be followed and the credentials of those who will conduct the investigation.
  • The more honest and forthcoming business leaders are about examining the cause of the crisis, the more likely it is that the results will be understood and accepted by stakeholders. Otherwise, the investigation itself could create another crisis for the company or organization.

                                                               ###

Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

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