3 Lessons Learned from the Penn State Scandal

The Penn State scandal has been all over the news these past few weeks and it got me thinking. I wondered how such a respected and seemingly professional establishment could have allowed this situation to go so far. How did these secrets stay buried for so long and how could an organization with such moral conviction let these decades-long accusations fester in the dark without follow-up?

Looking from the outside in, I can only assume that the internal communications and processes for handling crises are severely flawed on many levels. Here’s what I think we as business leaders can all learn and apply to our own organizations after watching the Penn State scandal unfold.

1. The truth will always come out.

It’s the golden rule of public relations: attempting to hide a negative, potentially damaging situation within the company only makes it worse. By trying to bury the accusations against Sandusky, Penn State made the entire situation far worse by being exposed after it festered beneath the surface for years. I’ve seen it happen in many organizations. If someone in your organization—I don’t care who it is—is involved with something unethical or illegal, it must be dealt with immediately. Damage control processes need to be activated with your corporate communications folks and a crisis plan needs to be created. Because the truth will always come out, even if after many years in hiding.

2. The open-door policy must be lived, not just talked about.

Most companies have an open-door communication policy but many don’t live up to it. In the Penn State situation it was clear that Sandusky’s improprieties were witnessed and reported to superiors. Nothing was done about it. But something made the whistleblower stop there. Was he told to let it go? Was he made to feel like a detractor for blowing his whistle? Whatever the case may be, we can all learn that when an employee comes forward with something it must be taken seriously and there must be absolutely no element of discouragement or retribution for being the one that came forward. An open-door policy that is lived is one that instills a sense of comfort and safety for employees that need to bring bad things to light.

3. No one is immune from responsibility.

Joe Paterno is probably the most loved college coach of all time, and clearly a pillar of the Penn State organization—not just the football team. Yet even he is not immune from doing the right thing when faced with a difficult situation with one of his employees. All leaders should take this to heart. As a leader, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your company first. Personal relationships must take a back seat to the law.

Have you ever faced a difficult legal or ethical situation in your professional life? How did you choose to deal with it?

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please visit his website at activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Commitment to Change

Just like the people who work for them, CEOs and leaders come in all different sizes, shapes, styles, and backgrounds. As you can imagine, those variations influence how their people behave, who they hire, the systems and processes they use, and the strength of the team they have around them, etc. Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group put together a list of 10 ways some CEOs react to recommendations he makes about their sales force. They are exactly the typical answers we’ve heard from the CEOs and seniors regarding unsuccessful projects of all types:

#1 – “Thank you for your advice. I’m not comfortable with that.” Who says that you have to be COMFORTABLE? You have to do the right thing for your company!

#2 – “I’m not quite ready for that. How about if we do that in six months?” This is a less honest version of #1 – at least be straight with me!

#3 – “Whatever you say. You’re the expert.” This tends to work out a lot like #1. Yes, they agree with whatever I say but are no stronger with management than with me and can’t drive change.

#4 – “This is B*ll S*it. They’re just going to have to do what you say, right now, or they’re gone.” That’s the spirit, but it isn’t driving change. You can’t pound people with a sledgehammer to drive change; you have to inspire them to change.

#5 – “Let me see if I can get some consensus for this.” Oh-oh, this isn’t going to work. You never get consensus from people who don’t want change in the first place!

#6 – “OK. Let’s talk about how we’re going to accomplish that, given our challenges.” Much better! At least we’re going to talk about how we can implement…

#7 – “Great – can YOU deliver that message for me?” This is even worse than #5!

#8 – “I’m not going to drive this. One of my senior managers will have to drive this.” OK, how many years are you willing to wait to find a genius who finds value in this AND isn’t threatened by it or me?

#9 – “Why aren’t my people doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you have to be strong enough to tell them that it’s a condition of continued employment rather than quietly sitting there, not saying a thing, and expecting something to change!

#10 – I don’t want to do it your way. I think it should be done my way instead.” Ah, excuse me, but isn’t that the same way you were doing it for the last 10 years – and it didn’t work then either?

Remember, your people won’t be committed to change if leadership isn’t.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at 305.722.7213 or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.