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The Smith-Rock Slap: HR to the Rescue!


Many oscar statues are lined up on a table.


Former employment attorney and author Jathan Janove writes for SHRM Online on how to inject greater humanity into HR compliance. Jathan welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

Pretend you are the CHRO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and you're attending the Oscars award ceremony along with the Academy's CEO. You witness Oscar nominee Will Smith slap presenter Chris Rock, and you say to the CEO, "We need to confront Mr. Smith and escort him out of this room." 

The CEO agrees and the two of you approach Smith as the program comes to a halt. "Mr. Smith," you say, "we represent the Academy, and you need to come with us now." If necessary, you mention that security will be summoned. 

You take him to a room and explain that his behavior is unacceptable and cannot be condoned. 

If Smith isn't contrite, you make it clear that he must leave the building and not return. You add that further action will be discussed by the Academy's leadership. 

And if Smith seems genuinely contrite and acknowledges having made a terrible mistake, you discuss two options: 

  1. He returns to the ceremony and immediately makes a "MIDAS Touch" apology to everyone, pointedly including Rock. No justification, explanation or excuse. Instead, a candid acknowledgment that he was wrong and that his mistake caused injury not only to Rock, but also to others who were shocked and traumatized by his behavior. Smith pledges never to behave this way again. To make amends, Smith announces he'll make a major donation to organizations working to eliminate violence in society and will solicit input from Rock on where to make his donation. 
  2. Smith crafts a MIDAS Touch apology along these lines but instead of returning to the ceremony, his apology is conveyed to the audience by someone else. 

Assuming Smith opts for option 1 or 2, you reach out to Rock and let him know that Smith would like to apologize to him personally and then apologize to everyone else. Assuming Rock is amenable, you bring the two together. Following an exchange of apologies and perhaps tears, you suggest the best approach might be option 2, with Rock conveying Smith's apology to the audience and to the world. 

(Based on my experience with MIDAS Touch apologies, I can confidently predict that Rock would respond with his own apology for the joke he made about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.) 

My prediction: Had the situation been handled as described above, the Smith-Rock slap story would not only be getting old by now, but there would also have been genuine healing—and HR would once again be the hero! 

Author's note: For more on how HR can help resolve workplace conflicts, please read Resolving the Conflicts of Others.  

Jathan Janove, J.D., is the author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins/Amacom, 2017). He is president of the Oregon Organization Development Network and was named in Inc. magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for 2018. If you have questions or suggestions for topics for future columns, write to jathan@jathanjanove.com.

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