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Penn State's Focus on Culture: Survey Good BUT When Will the Football Program Declare its Purpose
Penn State's Focus on Culture: Survey Good BUT When Will the Football Program Declare its Purpose
Daniel Forrester, CEO
By Daniel Forrester, CEO
November 14, 2013
In case you missed it, Penn State recently launched a Values and Culture Survey to all faculty, staff, and students.

In case you missed it, Penn State recently launched a Values and Culture Survey to all faculty, staff, and students. The University hopes to use the results to better understand “the values and experiences of the people who learn and work at Penn State every day”. The end result will be a collection of core values for the entire University system; it’s about time. It’s good to see this effort for a number of reasons:

  • Penn State is living an important commitment to transparency by publishing information on this survey online. It’s refreshing that the survey effort is a Google search away from the general public.
  • The University established a timeline by which participants in the survey will see the results  - spring 2014. It’s critical to promise to ‘report back’ (and stick to that promise) when asking people to honestly speak up about their experiences. As a result of the open process, as well as the anonymity of survey responses, they’ll get more accurate results to decide core values.
  • They are spending time and effort to understand what people in the community really experience, rather than assuming they know. This is a key distinction; without listening openly, the effort would merely be a ‘plaque on the wall’. The resulting core values promise to be something both that the community can buy into and also support a culture that management can reinforce.

Linda Treviño, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics, Smeal College of Business at Penn State, has said of businesses, “employees’ perceptions of [intention] is really essential…. it’s very difficult to create a culture and have it permeate and bake into the organization.” It’s refreshing to see that Treviño, a member of the committee overseeing the initiative, understands the challenge Penn State will face. They’re taking the right step forward with this transparent survey.

Once Penn State has established clear core values, what’s next? As I’ve written before in The “Big Ten” Questions That Really Matter for Penn State, I think it’s important to clarify the mission statement. Penn State should ask itself: Why do we choose to educate?  To what end?  For who’s benefit? And the embattled football program needs a mission statement that declares a clear purpose, linked to the University, that leaves no room for the culture that lead to its recent scandal.

Once these critical social contracts are established and public for the entire community to see, Penn State will truly be turning over a new leaf.