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5 Signs Your Company's Got a 'Penn State' Problem

stadium-art-02 Credit: Dreamstime.com

Penn State's got a big problem on its hands — and its conscience.  The lives of many children and their families have been irreparably damaged by the abhorrent behavior of one member of its organization — and the complicity of many.

Penn State is not alone. What reportedly happened at Penn State — a spoken or unspoken group decision to look the other way when someone does wrong — happens at businesses, large and small, every day. There are, however, things your company can do to prevent it.

If you see these things happening at your company, it may be time to rethink your priorities and make a conscious effort to create an environment in which no one person is powerful enough to skew the moral compass of the entire organization.

One for all – If your company becomes a "cult of personality" in which one person or leader becomes above reproach, you need to consider dividing up the power. This will not only prevent corruption, it will also ensure that you company can survive, even if it loses its key leadership . In Penn State's case, it seems that its football coaches became so revered that no one dared rock the boat.

Following the money – Has your company starting making decisions based solely on their return on investment? It's a bad idea. Making a profit is great, but doing the right thing is the only way you'll stay in business for the long run. As soon as you start making your bottom line your only concern, you're doomed to sweep first little — and then big — problems under the rug to keep the money flowing in.

Forgetting the rest of the company – Do you think Penn State would have been as eager to cover up these goings on if they had occurred in the English department? Sometimes companies get so wrapped up in the moneymaking parts of the company that they forget that there's a whole back-end of the organization that's just as important. Don't fool yourself into thinking that the star sales team is any more important than operations, IT or your back office. It'll come back to bite you.

Doing the minimum – Part of Penn State's problem seems to be that a lot of people who did only what was required of them — reporting an incident to their superiors. Having taken another step would have likely saved a lot of heartache and avoided this enormous scandal. As business owners, you know that doing the minimum is not the way to run a business. In fact, it's going above and beyond that makes your company stand out from the rest. If you're running a "just do what we have to do to get by" kind of operation, you're headed for all sorts of trouble.

Keeping it hush-hush – It still remains to be seen, but one imagines that one of the things Penn State could have done better was create an environment that encouraged employees to speak up when they notice something wrong. This may be easier said than done, but there's no question that the key is making sure your employees know they are truly safe to bring concerns to your attention. Your responsibility is to take the next step and make sure something is done to right the wrongs reported.


Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.