I live in State College, Pennsylvania, a small town that is the home to a huge university: Penn State. Until the events of recent weeks State College was known as Happy Valley.
Everything changed earlier this month with media outlets all over the country, even some in Europe, covering the alleged child sex abuse scandal made public in a twenty-three page Grand Jury report. Forty charges of sex abuse have been lodged against a former Penn State assistant football coach ranging back to 1994.
The one receiving the most attention is reported to have occurred in 2002 when a then graduate assistant football coach is alleged to have witnessed the former coach sodomizing a young boy in a shower at the football facilities.
There are different accountings of what happened next, who reported what to whom and the actions, or inactions, that ensued. One thing is clear: no one reported the alleged incident to the police as is required by law.
As a result, the president and head football coach were terminated. This was preceded by two other administrators involved in the handling of the incident, the athletic director and the vice president for finance, being arraigned on charges of perjury and failure to report the incident.
Knowing I live in State College, some readers of this blog have asked for my views. If anything, the Penn State scandal could serve as a case study, albeit a tragic one, of violating the principles of good organizational structure. In Rainmakers, Closers & Other Sales Myths (chapter twelve), I write that every organization has a formal structure that illustrates reporting lines: who reports to whom. Many also have an informal, or shadow, structure where the true reporting relationships are practiced and culture revealed. The congruence between the formal structure and what is actually practiced can be read as a symptom of organizational health.
It was widely understood and written that Penn State allowed its football coach to operate autonomously. The formal structure would show him reporting to the athletic director, and the AD in turn reporting to the president. It seems, however, the coach reported to no one. One celebrated example occurred in 2004 when the AD and president tried to coax the coach into retirement. He was seventy-eight then. The coach was allowed to continue for another seven years until his inglorious end.
One lesson that may be learned from this tragedy it is to look at the congruence of your formal and informal organizational structures. Ideally, they should be one in the same.