Tag Archives: values

Penn Sate, and Libor, and… – What does Your Organization Truly Value?

By definition, every organization is “values driven.” The only question is, what values are in the driver’s seat?
Gary Hamel, What Matters Now


Let’s think about what organizations value.  We’d best start with this:  what does your organization value?  Make sure you know the answer to that question.  Everything depends on it.

And, there’s a pretty good chance that what your organization says they value may not be what they really value.

Here’s the story.

At Penn State, an assistant coach raped a boy – a young boy.
So far, you can only blame this assistant coach.  It is sad; tragic.  But only one person is at fault; only one person is to be blamed.
But then, somebody found about it, and told someone else.  A handful of people learned about this.
They did not take the logical, appropriate, human, humane action.
Now, it is the fault of a very flawed system – a genuine, massive failure of organizational values; and the fault of a group of people, not one person.
The coach then raped other boys.  After someone told somebody else about it.

And now, even after the former director of the FBI issued his report, there are many who say, “no – I don’t believe the findings of the report.  And, the punishment is unfair, too harsh.  We didn’t do enough wrong to warrant that punishment.”

Because, we are in a national, maybe international, state of denial.  “Things are not that bad.  There are only the stories of an occasional bad apple here and there.”

Don’t kid yourself.  There are too many stories of these bad apples, in too many organizations, to consider these isolated incidences anymore.

And in each case, it boils down to this:

This is what we value here:  _________.  And we value this more than anything else.  Nothing else matters as much as this thing that we supremely value.  So, if some kind of wrongdoing is done that might threaten our success fulfilling this thing that we supremely value, we will ignore it, hide it, be intentionally blind to it, because what we value is far more important than this bad thing that was done by some bad apple.

At Penn State, it is hard to know what to put in that “this is what we value” blank.  Did Penn State value football supremely?  Thus, they placed Joe Paterno on a gigantic, pedestal, because he delivered the football product they supremely valued?  Did Penn State value the prestige, and the money, that such a football program brought to their school?  If so, then it was “right” to put a picture of Coach Paterno on campus with a halo over his head, and a statue that so many made a pilgrimage to to show honor to the great  man who represented, who successfully “fulfilled,” their supreme value.

Here, take a look at this picture – the one with the halo.  Think about what it means.  It is, in fact, exactly the picture that should be prominent on this campus.  He represented success in what this school supremely valued.  (Yes, I know that the artist placed the the halo over his head after his death, and pretty quickly painted over the halo as the scandal became so public..  But, I’m describing a “values-honoring symbolism,” as personified in this so very great man to this university – thus, the halo was an appropriate symbol of this man, at this university, with these values).

with halo; then halo painted over

a look at the larger painting

I think they should have left the picture with the halo up, and left the statue up.  Because, in listening to the rants and rage of the people objecting to the NCAA punishment, they still place their supreme value in the same place.  “We did not deserve this punishment” is the cry.  But, in fact, they did.  Because they had all placed their supreme value in the wrong place.  And the punishment is not just for what Sandusky did, and others covered up – it is an indictment of a system with such misplaced values.

And, of course, for the NCAA to punish such “values” just drips with irony.  The NCAA is filled with schools that place this sport pretty close to the “supreme value” level.  And many of these schools make decisions that are not quite good for all so that their prestige and their profits and their reputation about their great football program can be protected.

At Penn State, something mattered more, something was valued more, than the safety of young boys.  It was “okay” to turn one’s back to an assistant coach raping additional boys, because they did not value the safety of those boys as much as they valued something else.

You cannot value two things supremely.  There is room for only one top value in the value hierarchy.

{Of course, I find this despicable.  Why should football and prestige ever have that supreme value slot in an institution of higher learning?  And, I think the actions of Paterno, and others, deserve absolute condemnation.  But, this blog post is an attempt to ask, “what did Penn State supremely value?”  And, then, “what does my, and your, organization supremely value?”}

The Libor scandal is the same story.  (And Enron, and BP, and….).  Yes, I agree that the rape of young boys is far more despicable than overcharging for credit. But there is a parallel — what do these banks value?  You know, the ones which set the interest rates to their advantage – actually, on some days, to the advantage of a small group of “buddies” who asked their buddies to set the rates to maximize their own bonuses.  Whatever they do value, they did not value the best interest of their end customers – the people who had to make the mortgage payments.  They put their own interest above the interest of the people they “served.”

And, they got away with it as long as they could.

As did News Corp with their phone hacking.

As did Penn State with their cover-up – even if it meant that additonal young boys were going to be raped.

As did…

No, the problem is not Penn State, or Libor, or Enron, or…  The crisis is not a few bad apples.  The crisis is deeper that that.  It is a values crisis.  It is a “what we supremely value trumps any other concerns” crisis.

And, I think every customer on the planet should start asking of every store and organization and university “what do you supremely value here in this organization?’’  And then we need to demand honest answers.

Remember Gary Hamel’s clear statement of fact, and warning:

By definition, every organization is “values driven.” The only question is, what values are in the driver’s seat?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Trading Places, and Today’s News – Some Saturday Musings about Values, Morals, Ethics

News item:
Dallas Police Department fires three officers:
Dallas Police Chief David Brown fired three officers Friday in cases involving alleged substance abuse, including one who police say drove while drunk and fired a weapon out of his car and another found to have misused prescription drugs.

News Item:
Parkland Memorial Hospital fired a social worker for complaining about pressure to break safety rules, a new lawsuit alleges.

New item: 
NFL Players Associaotion appealing punishments:
The NFL Players Association has filed a pair of grievances challenging the authority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend four players for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.
In the first, filed with arbitrator Shyam Das, the NFLPA argues that Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any conduct prior to Aug. 4, when the current collective bargaining agreement took effect.
“In connection with entering into the 2011 CBA, the NFL released all players from conduct engaged in prior to the execution of the CBA, on August 4, 2011,” the grievance says.


(Warning:  I may ramble a bit in this post).

The Duke Brothers

Do you remember the movie Trading Places.  In the movie, the Duke brothers place a wager that they could turn a common criminal into an upstanding business success, and they could turn a fine-upstanding business success into a common criminal.  Here’s one Duke brother to the other (I think I’ve got the brothers speaking in the correct order):

Mortimer Duke to Randolph Duke:
I suppose you think Winthorpe… say if he were to lose his job, would resort to holding up people on the streets.

Randolph Duke to Mortimer Duke:
No, I don’t think that would be enough for Winthorpe.
We’d have to heap a little more misfortune on those narrow shoulders.
If he lost his job and his homeand his fiancée and his friends.
If he were somehow disgraced and arrested by the policeand thrown in jail, even.
Yes, I’m sure he’d take to crime like a fish to water.

By the way, it worked:  Billy Ray Valentine became the next Wall Street wonder, and Winthorpe took to crime pretty dramatically.

I occasionally think of this movie as I read the painful stories of the failures of our leaders, and our institutions.   Maybe life circumstances do lead some people to do wrong, criminal, evil deeds.  (Would you steal medicine for a son or daughter who desperately needed it, if that was the only way you could obtain it?)  But, as I remember from many years ago during a lawless riot in one inner city, one community leader put it this way:  “the poor must be moral too.”  And the rich, I might add.  And everyone else.

I just presented a book synopsis of the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  A theologian in Germany at the rise of Hitler, Bonhoeffer was “martyred” for his part in a failed attempt to kill Hitler (yes, he played a part in the Valkyrie plot).  He was “sent to America” to continue his writing and his speaking in safety, (so that he could continue to have influence), but, he heard a higher ethical calling:

I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America.
I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. They may have been right in urging me to do so; but I was wrong in going.

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany on the last steamer from America before the war, and ultimately was hanged just two weeks before his camp was liberated by the Americans — on what was certainly the direct order of Hitler himself.


A police officer really does need to live up to a high standard of moral and ethical behavior.  And I know, from experience with fine people involved, that the Dallas police Department takes seriously the ethical training of is leaders.  So the failure of even one hurts the entire organization (not to mention its reputation in the community).

When we have police officers who break the law, when we have superiors in a public hospital firing a social worker for standing up for what is right, when we have a player’s union asking for penalties to be overturned because the rules were not in effect yet (as though doing the right thing is dependent on the way the rules are written)… I think it is safe to say that there is an ethical vacuum throughout our society.

A fine MBA teacher who attends our First Friday Book Synopsis reminds me that this is not new.  This problem is as old as time itself, and no one has found a way to change human nature enough to change such a dark reality.

We could recite the ideas and proposed remedies:  more training in ethics, more oversight, and regulation, and coaching, and mentoring, and better discipline, and…

But here is at least one thing to think about.  Organizations are shaped, in very real ways, in the image of its top leader.  And the more that a top leader sets a clear vision, with an unblinking focus, the more chance that organization has to be shaped in the direction of that vision and focus.

And the more that an organization thinks that that such ethical matters will take care of themselves, the more that an organization decides that an occasional “cya” seminar on ethics is the approach to take to “solve” its ethical issue, the further the organization will fall away from a genuine and lasting ethical core.

In What Matters Now, Gary Hamel writes:

Values (matter now)  :
As trust has waned, the regulatory burden on business has grown. Reversing these trends will require nothing less than a moral renaissance in business.

“A moral renaissance in business.”  This implies that there was once a golden age in business, an age of good morals, an age of less greed, less skirting of the rules and boundaries of ethical concerns.

If only.

But I do think this.  We need a pretty serious effort by the genuine leaders, the ones at the top, to tackle this ongoing, multi-generational/multi-century crisis. With all of their vigor and vision and focus.

If anything trumps morals, ethics, values in an organization, it is a time for a new leader.  And until we get genuinely moral leaders, we will continue to read story after story of moral failure.


Your Organization Is Values Driven – The Question Is, “What Are The Values?” (insight from Gary Hamel)

By definition, every organization is “values driven.” The only question is, what values are in the driver’s seat?
Gary Hamel, What Matters Now


Gary Hamel, in his newest book What Matters Now:  How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation (the subtitle wears me out, thinking about all that I need to work on) calls the leaders of organizations to pay close attention to five areas.  (Five may almost be too many, but that is another discussion).  His five:

values; innovation; adaptability; passion; and ideology.

They are all important, but, as Hamel says…

…some things matter more than others.

And he implies that the greatest of these five is values.  It all starts with the values of an organization.  In the values, we see just what organizations think of its customers, and its employees.  And when those values are off, everything is off.  (Think the recent “I Quit” letter by Greg Smith, when he told the world why he was leaving Goldman Sachs).

If you are a leader of an organization, what are the values that underlie your every decision?  Because, you do have values that do underlie your every decision.

If they are not the right values – the valuable values – it’s time for some major change.

And if you work for an organization with the wrong values driving the organization, it’s either time to have some rather crucial conversations – or, time to look for a new organization to work with and for.

Get the values wrong, and everything will go wrong.  Get the values right, and you have a fighting chance to make everything go right.