I was pondering the situation at Penn State this morning on my drive in to the office. Putting aside the physical crimes that are alleged, not because these are not important – indeed they are ultimately the most critical aspect – but because what I am interested in this morning is the notion of integrity on an organization as a result of individual actions.
Like Penn State, Lehman Brothers and Enron were some of the most recognizable names on a resume that any person in the respective industry could feature. Today, these names are the punchline of a joke and individuals who carry them are likely to face additional scrutiny as a result of the organizational failures that captured the public’s attention.
Organizational failures are ultimately a series of individual failures and if you search Google you will find an endless stream of articles about how failure is a consequence of flawed learning and inability to adapt to changing conditions.
However, in these cases that simply doesn’t ring true, the epic organizational failures I have highlighted are a consequence of organizational success; definitely in the case of Lehman and Enron, and when the book is written on Penn State it will probably highlight how a very successful athletic program (college athletics is a business, not an endeavor) resulted in the individuals achieving a level of status that insulated them from scrutiny.
Is success so seductive that it causes otherwise reasonable people to put aside moral questions that may endanger continued success? Sadly, it appears that for too many people this is the case so the question I will leave you with is how, in your company, do you institutionalize integrity in decision making and subject the most successful among your team to a level of scrutiny that assures the entire organization is not imperiled by their actions?