Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Weak Human Resources failed Joe Paterno

The Importance of Strong HR
How Weak Human Resources failed Joe Paterno

For the past few months we’ve been barraged by the tragedy that unfolded in State College, Pennsylvania. A legendary icon, a man noted for his integrity and honest and true concern for everyone he met--most of all the young men playing football for him—was dismissed by a trigger-happy board trying to run a defensive PR campaign--all because of bad human resource management. 

Where did this start? Not in the waning months of 2011. This began more than 20 years ago when a misaligned, weakly led HR team failed to institute policies and procedures to address and resolve issues and concerns like those surrounding the actions of the assistant coaches. HR either neglected to create a system for addressing these types of concerns, or worse, created them but was remiss to act on the issues that were brought to their attention. It appears to be the latter.

Ask yourself this question. You are the HR leader of a world-renowned organization. A Grand Jury investigation is being conducted (this is not a research project being conducted by a graduate student) regarding the practices of your institution related to allegations regarding inappropriate behavior of a few members of your management team. It’s a GRAND JURY investigation! Why wasn’t action taken without delay to develop an internal as well as external process for immediately and confidentially addressing any and all issues discovered during the original investigation?

Your answer?

HR failed. 

Processes should have immediately been implemented to ensure that if there was ever a case such as this brought to the attention of any member of management, they would know exactly who to report it to and what steps to follow.

Had this happened, a good HR department would have conducted an investigation, the perpetrator would have been discharged, and--due to the criminal nature of the event--the legal authorities would have been notified and the justice system would have taken over the process.

With how the situation unfolded, we assume that this institution has a very weak HR department; HR is not respected when it comes to protecting the company, and HR has no position or connection as counsel to the Board of Directors. HR failed to take action when they became aware of the allegations, or perhaps even worse, were apathetic to the situation. Of course there is another potential answer: HR was not informed of the allegations nor circumstances and as such could not have taken appropriate corrective action with the university employees that would have ultimately protected the children.

This university could have easily lessened their vulnerability. They could have maintained what is now a scarred piece of their otherwise stellar history by ensuring that they had a world class HR leader who was constantly on guard protecting the customers (i.e. students, parents and anyone who used the university for service, learning, or professional development) while professionally training the managers of their responsibility to be diligent. 

Had professional HR expertise been in place and operating as the strategic partner to the university, none of the ensuing events would have happened after the first Grand Jury investigation.  Potentially dozens of children would have been protected, a legendary coach would have finished out his career with the grace and honor that was due him, and this once exceptional institution would have maintained it’s hallowed reputation.

What caused this tragedy?  The failure of HR to manage.  As a result HR managed to fail.    

by Dave Baker, SPHR

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