Monday, November 28, 2011

Nightmare in Happy Valley: Lessons from the Penn State Debacle

Today we have a guest blog from Dan Weedin:

The nightmare in Happy Valley last week involving the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State cost legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the university president their jobs. It’s severely tarnished reputations; incited riots on campus; initiated civil lawsuits; and will hurt the university in recruiting students to its campus. The collateral damage may be devastating to that institution and take years to overcome.

What can you as an executive learn from this story?

  • Crisis happens. If you’re in business, you are bound to deal with some level of crisis.
  • Planned response trumps chickens running. Crisis has the effect of catching the unprepared running around like those proverbial chickens without heads. Communication is critical.
  •  You need to practice. Football coaches don’t “wing” their 2-minute drills. Neither should you!
Most boards of directors and executives overlook planning and preparing their crisis response. The three biggest enemies are apathy, complacency, and denial (courtesy of personal safety guru, Larry Kaminer). All too often, the bad event must occur to precipitate response. In this case, it was a matter of bad behavior. This opens up huge doors titled “legal” and “reputation damage.” So what can you do?
  • Get training. If you really want to get fit, you hire a trainer because they will maximize your performance and get you stronger faster. No matter how savvy you think you are, you will never reach the same level of execution and preparedness because you simply don’t have the same knowledge base.
  • Carry Employment Practices Liability. This is an important risk transfer technique that may save your bacon.
  • Have a crisis plan. Decisions made in real-time often stink and have long-term ramifications because the shrapnel from the explosions just keeps hitting people.

The world often provides us with warnings through the misfortunes of others. The Penn State tragedy is a nightmare for the victims and the university. Shrapnel from the “explosion” has hit many innocent people and it was avoidable. Take responsibility of your business and build your response to crisis before you find it burning all around you. You, your organization, and its people will be thankful you did.

© 2011 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved


Dan Weedin helps turn his clients business risk into rewards. He is able to take the abstract concepts of risk and crisis management to help business owners prepare and respond more effectively and with less time and cost to crisis. Since he doesn’t work for an insurance company or agency, he is able to act as an unbiased advocate for his clients. You can lear ore about Dan and how he can help your business on his web site at