Category Archives: Policies

A Lion in Winter: Lessons From the Penn State Scandal

Lion in Winter: Penn State Nittany Lions' head coach, Joe Paterno, watches his legendary 45-year career come to an ignominious end, engulfed in a sordid sex scandal where it is alleged he didn't do everything he could do to protect young victims from a long-time assistant who turned out to be a serial sexual predator

Hubris (noun)
1.  Pride or arrogance
2.  (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc., ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin

We don’t know all the facts yet about the evolving scandal at Penn State.  What does seem clear, though, is that we’re witnessing a humiliating end to the career of a legendary figure in college sports – a man who, until this very week, has been regarded as the epitome of uprightness and integrity throughout a 45-year run as a leader and icon for his sport.

While on the surface this is a “sports story,” in reality, it isn’t.  It’s a story about an organization, a leader, and an executive team that clearly lost their way when it came to “the most important things.”  The question for today is, how can other organizations – and ourselves – avoid such a fate?

Quick Summary

For those not familiar with the details, a long-time assistant coach at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, was indicted on 40 counts of endangering the welfare of a child (and similar crimes).  While he is not officially implicated in the case, Penn State’s football coach, Joe Paterno, had allegations involving Sandusky reported to him on at least two occasions.  Paterno – the winningest coach in Division I college football history — complied with his legal obligations by reporting the claim to his supervisor (the Athletic Director).  It appears, though, that he did absolutely nothing more than was legally required and did not pursue or otherwise inquire about the matter in any way.  Penn State’s Athletic Director and Finance VP have also been indicted and resigned from the university.  It is expected that Paterno will resign with days or weeks at the latest.

Details regarding the grand jury’s report are available here.  (Warning: graphic details, including child rape).

Heartbreak

There is heartbreak in every area and on every level in this story … Continue reading

The Need for Compassionate and Courageous Firing

There was a disturbing story in the newspaper today:

The trial dragged on for two years — marked by 46 days of hearings, 18 witnesses on the stand, and a hefty 89-page ruling by the judge. Mob crime of the century? Complex terror case?  Nope. Just trying to get rid of a bad public-school teacher.

The article went on to detail the almost unimaginable lengths that one had to go to terminate a demonstrably incompetent teacher in New York City. Not surprisingly, few administrators even try.

Do we always have the courage (and well-placed compassion) to fire an employee in the best interests of the company?

Fortunately, most of our workplaces aren’t nearly this extreme in protecting poorly performing employees.  Yet and still, I wonder if in trying to guard against lawsuits by forcing managers to “dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ ” before signing off on a termination,  HR professionals are often guilty of damaging the organization and its employees in unintended but real ways.

Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 5: Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner

The Joy of Painting

Bob Ross considered his tools -- his brushes -- to be his friends. Shouldn't organizational policies be our "friends," supporting our needs, not limiting them?

Do you remember Bob Ross, the man with the soothing voice, wild hair, and happy demeanor who hosted The Joy of Painting shows on PBS for so many years?  As I recall, one of his favorite phrases was pointing out in an encouraging way, as he added elements to his painting, that “the brush is our friend.” He wanted brushes to expand our horizons, not limit them.

I don’t know if Bob Ross (who sadly passed away at the young age of 52 in 1995 but lives on in re-runs around the world) knew anything about “human resources” or “corporate policies” — but I thought of him recently in connection to both of these topics.   Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 4: Mean What You Say

When advising management teams that are considering new policies, I always ask them to consider one question: “If your star employee violated this policy, what would you do?”

One of BYU's star players violated a sacred university rule -- and the school stuck by the rule, to its short-term detriment and long-term acclaim

If the answer I get back is hemming and hawing and ultimately a sheepish, “Well, honestly, we’d probably look the other way or give him another chance,” it becomes clear that, at the very least, they shouldn’t state the policy in absolute terms (i.e., no use of the words “never,” “always,” and the like).  Better that they have a vague policy — or no policy at all — than that they have a policy that they know they’ll never really enforce (or won’t enforce for everyone, in any case).

To reduce it to its simplest element, it’s all about “meaning what you say.” If you write “never” or “always,” you better really mean “never” or “always.”  If not, your credibility (both legally and culturally) may never recover.  Quite remarkably, a story emerged from the sports world that illustrated the “mean what you say” proviso quite dramatically.  Continue reading