That one big, bad mistake

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Apologies in advance to PWC.

Dear PWC, I am sorry to write this but the metaphor is just too timely and important. OK, OK, some will say that I am piling on but I don’t meant to. I only want to illustrate a lesson about work and careers. I hope you will forgive the license and accept my apologies in advance.

To set the stage: One person at PWC, a senior person at that, made a bad judgment call and as a result gave the wrong envelope to presenters at this year’s Academy Awards. The resulting confusion was a moment for the ages. PWC owned up to the mistake and issued several apologies (good move). It was a story that was hard to miss and everyone in the world now knows about it. It was an unfortunate incident for everyone involved, especially PWC.

Let’s take a step back. PWC is a great firm. Worldwide they have over two hundred thousand employees who perform really difficult tasks and solve important problems every day. Although I have no inside information, the very nature of the work they do dictates that the people there act with integrity and high standards. The firm is selective in who they hire and employees are put through a comprehensive training program. People there are proud to be a part of the firm. BUT…that major flub did occur at the Academy Awards. It happened in front of billions of people. And PWC was to blame.

So I dare you. When you see an ad for PWC right now or you meet someone who works at PWC, what is the first thing that comes to mind? It’s the flub. Admit it. And it’s too bad because there are so many positives about the firm.

The proverbial saw cuts both ways. I suspect when you see an airplane from USAir you might think of the heroics of Captain Sully. When you see an Apple logo, Steve Jobs may still come to mind. Duke basketball and Coach K are almost the same thing. Tiger Woods can conjure thoughts in activities other than golf.

The lesson? No matter who you are and how long you’ve been around, one mistake can define you or your organization and last for a long time, good or bad. Reputations can be resurrected but it doesn’t happen over night.

Think of the guy who got drunk at the holiday party a few years ago. Or the person who was abusive to employees and was caught on video. Or the colleague who saved the day on the project by working all night and you still remember it. The reputations were built, or hurt, in one fell swoop.

A personal and corporate image is a sensitive treasure and once a mistake is made it can be difficult to recover. Think about that before you make that one big, bad decision. Or, when you have an opportunity to do something great.

And, once again, so sorry PWC. Let me know if I can help.

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