The horrible acts allegedly committed by an ex-Penn State football coach here in the USA have taken over the headlines in newspapers and newscasts each day over the last week.

The ex-coach is charged with forty counts of sexually abusing eight young boys over a 15-year period. The grand jury report is available online.

My greatest concerns are for the victims and whether or not the parties that observed or heard about the ex-coach’s acts did everything they could to protect those young boys.

The fallout from the investigation has been heavy. The long-time – and revered – football coach, Joe Paterno, was fired, as was the university’s athletic director, vice president for finance and business, and the president.

My mentor, Ken Blanchard, refers to the “Ethics Check” in his excellent How We Lead blog post about the Penn State scandal. In this post, I want to take a different tack: What are Penn State’s values, and how are students and staff held accountable for those values?

Say What You Mean

Most organizations do not clarify what “good citizens” look, act, and sound like. Unfortunately, most organizations focus primarily on results, not on member citizenship. Yet the organizations we love to love have very distinct cultures with clear values expectations; those include Disney, Virgin, Apple, ASDA, and Harley-Davidson, among others.

Penn State has a set of Principles, where desired attitudes and behaviors are outlined. Their principles include:

  • I will respect the dignity of all individuals within the Penn State community.
  • I will practice academic integrity.
  • I will demonstrate social and personal responsibility.
  • I will be responsible for my own academic progress and agree to comply with all University policies.

The definitions are thorough for each of these principles (though I would like to see behavioralized definitions that describe tangible, observable demonstrations of these principles).

I think the principle that outlines “social and personal responsibility” is one that would have guided different behaviors from University leadership regarding the ex-coach’s transgressions – if those leaders had been held accountable for all Principles.

The problem with Penn State’s “Principles” statement is that they let everyone off the hook with these two statements: “At the same time, the University is strongly committed to freedom of expression. Consequently, these Principles do not constitute University policy and are not intended to interfere in any way with an individual’s academic or personal freedoms.” (italics mine)

Mean What You Say

In a blog post earlier this year I described the crystal clear values accountability in place at another USA educational institution: Brigham Young University. BYU states clearly that to participate and graduate, students must demonstrate behavior in alignment with the school Honor Code, both on or off campus.

No ifs, ands, or buts. Align to the BYU Honor Code, or leave the school.

I believe that if Penn State had made alignment to the University’s Principles a requirement, the ex-coach’s behavior would not have been tolerated by any staff who observed or heard about these incidents.

Mean what you say. Be clear about what a good corporate citizen looks, acts, and sounds like. Don’t be bashful – be bold. You’ll enjoy better productivity, increased cooperative interaction, fabulous values demonstration, and . . . you’ll sleep better.

What do you think about “living your company values”? Share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.

Download your FREE excerpt of Chris’ newest book, #CORPORATE CULTURE tweet.

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. Rey Carr says

    I share your concern about the victims and their families, and I think you’re idea of fixing the mismatch between what Penn State says and what it does is paramount. The firing of the university president and the head coach is an example of this mismatch. I’m not saying that they (and others) shouldn’t have been fired, but what happened to (1) administrative fairness, where coach Paterno as an employee of the university was given a fair hearing (rather than being fired by a late night phone call without any prior discussion or consideration of disciplinary action); (2) the opportunity to learn and commit to more appropriate action in the future and make amends for the previous error; and (3) the protection of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution that requires that the punishment must fit the crime. Being fired from his job, violates these three basic tenets of the law.

  2. Al Watts says

    ‘Couldn’t agree with you more, Chris; an organizations and its leaders values are the foundation for its culture and integrity. I looked for PSU’s institution-wide values, but hadn’t found them yet; thanks for that. Ironically, one of PSU’s Athletic Department’s stated values was: “to promote traditional values of honesty, integrity, commitment and hard work as the foundation of Penn State’s reputation and continuing success.” ‘Another case I’m afraid of “Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you’re saying.” (Emerson) You and your readers might like to see the article I wrote about Penn State at

  3. Kim Galgano says

    Thank you for your points because I’ve been writing a few of my own ( and have been curious to see what else is being said.

    With leadership comes great responsibility! We most definately need to live by the values we hold. What else have we if not? We have people questioning what is true which seems to be the sad commentary for this unfortunate situation.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Chris Edmonds says

      Values play out in how we treat others. It doesn’t matter what we SAY we value – what we value is demonstrated in every plan, decision, and action. Thank you, Kim!

  4. Larry Beck says

    Chris —

    A critical component in getting organizational values, visions, missions, and purpose to mean anything is consistent discussion and communication within the organization. Penn State would not be the only organization to have stated values that have not gotten ingrained into their culture. How many organizations are out there that have vision statements that are relatively meaningless to them? Unfortunately, a lot.

    Organizations and the people who work in them place value on how often messages are delivered and understood. The more they hear the message, the greater the impact on what members believe is important to the organization. While this can be overdone at times, when it comes to issues like values and purpose, there may not be a threshold of hearing these messages enough. Certainly, many organizations fall well short of communicating what they value.

    Of course, it never hurts to be very clear on what the message is and demonstrating the behavior that the organization has stated is important. For Penn State, it appears from a far that they likely under communicated their values, weren’t real clear when they did, and may not have taken ownership of the message to demonstrate that it is indeed important.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Chris Edmonds says

      Thank you, Larry! Our culture process helps senior leaders create crystal clarity about both performance and values expectations, then hold all staff equally accountable for both.

      It’s a discipline that is too rare in organizations around the globe.