Monday, July 23, 2012

Could HR Have Been The Moral Compass for Penn State?


I am pretty sure I know what most of us think about Jerry Sandusky, I am less sure about what many may think of Joe Paterno, but the area where we should all be thinking more about is the Penn State management and the Penn State culture. What is it that makes a man like Joe Paterno who is most likely a man of high integrity who has helped many a young man grow into positive, valuable role models turn a blind eye to something as egregious as child exploitation?  I am sure there are all sorts of psychological reasons that I am not qualified to comment on, but one area I can discuss is the failure of leadership.

Penn State had a strong goal that everyone bought into – but that goal had a limited moral compass to keep it on track. That moral compass has to come from senior management – and especially from HR. Given the circumstances of the Penn State affair – I doubt HR was much in the loop of what was happening there (I sure hope not anyway) but similar – if maybe not as horrible – types of breach of moral or ethical standards happen all too often in many corporations today.

We all espouse the value of a company or organization that has a strong culture and a strong focus on their goals. But that focus can lead people to lose track of other important goals that should drive our everyday life. Clearly everybody in-the-know at Penn State had lost their senses.

In most companies HR is in the heart of building the culture, supporting the corporate goals and advising senior management on how to blend culture with business goals and company priorities. But another role that HR can play is making sure the organization does not lose its moral compass. HR is in the perfect position to warn when a company is going too far and to be there when actions go beyond what is acceptable.

I tend to believe that if HR had been in the loop at Penn State – things would not have gotten out of hand.