Ask Penn State if They Can Measure the Value of Culture

16 11 2011

“Integrity is how you act when people are watching.  Values are how you act when people aren’t”

Organizational culture is a hidden asset.  What I mean here is you can’t really see, taste or touch it yet its presence is always there.  When you nurture and develop it, the results often lead to very positive results.  I work with companies to define this intangible object and quantify it in real world value.  Because when you can quantify the influence of culture, it is easier to make an investment in its growth.

So what is the value of culture? Can things such as Vision, Mission and Values be quantified.  When things are going OK, it is easier to define.  When things go wrong, it can be blatantly obvious.  I have been a college football fan for a long time.  Since I am from Wisconsin, I like many others in this state are devout fans of the Badgers.  I remember going to games years ago when there would be 20,000 (I’m being optimistic here) in the seats to watch a game.  Nowadays games are sold out.  The stadium is packed and the Badgers often rank as one of the top teams in the nation.  University leadership created a sports culture built upon success and they have reaped the benefits.  The economic impact to the university has to be in the tens if not hundreds of millions over the past decade.  The indirect benefits have included other campus improvements for the university and a tremendous economic boost for the local community on any given home game for football, basketball or hockey.

What’s even more noticeable is when things go way wrong.  Penn State is going through that turmoil right now.  And it could have all been avoided if someone would have taken action.  Just in case you were under a rock for the past two weeks, a former member of the coaching staff for Penn State football was allegedly involved in a sex scandal.  The actions of this individual have been documented for the past decade along with the apparent cover up that led to the firing of key figures at the college and the dismissal of Joe Paterno.

At one time, Penn State represented a lot of the good things about college football.  Joe Pa was a well respected coach.  He had an excellent track record of finding talent that could also pass their classes.  Penn State was scandal free, avoiding issues of corruption that had plagued other large universities.  Joe Paterno and Penn State Football was an institution.  Unfortunately the institution had cracks in its foundation.  What the scandal exposed was a mis-alignment of values, vision and culture.  Penn State represented trust and integrity.  Yet at some point, leadership chose to betray those values to protect the image of the college over helping the innocent victims.  It is sad and unfortunate.  I have been to Penn State for a football game.  The hospitality was great and both students and alumni that I have met represent all that’s right with the college.  I am sad they have to go through this.  Unfortunately the majority suffer from the actions of a few.

That leads to the cost.  The impact of the scandal and cover-up go beyond emotional damage.  There will be a significant financial impact as well.  Paterno was responsible for bringing millions into the college.  Then there’s alumni donations which may take a hit.  Additional costs will also include the litigation associated with the scandal.  Also affected are college recruiting for both athletic students and regular academics.  While it is too early to measure the entire extent of the financial damage done, the costs will be well into the millions and impact the college for years to come.

While these are extreme examples from a large institution, each company has a direct financial impact created by their culture both positive and negative.  During challenging economic times the culture is often the first to be neglected influencing future success.  Do you know the impact your culture has on your business?  Have you measured it?  How will it influence your future?


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16 11 2011
Bob Ulrich

A well written and interesting op-ed piece. While I agree that the “influence of culture” has a direct relation with the growth, or the demise, of any organization. I believe that, there must be a foundation of creativity, trust and openness to allow the origination to grow and evolve into a positive culture. If allowed to flourish people at all levels will speak out and invest their knowledge with the organization allowing them to move forward and be profitable. If not, the activities surrounding Penn State need to be life lesson to each of us.

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