PSU Sanctions: What’s a New Coach to Do?

As the NCAA delivered its sentence to Penn State University and its football team last week, it’s natural to think about those who will be most affected by the consequences; the players and their new coach. But more specifically, how do they pick up and move on without further damage. In some respects you can liken this situation to an organization that just went through a major reorganization, or one that introduced a new leader into the fold to replace the negative, destructive leader that just left. The first challenge in either case is to keep the employees "heads in the game" and to rebuild the culture. Based on what I know to be true about behavior, I offer the following advice to Bill O’Brien or any other leader who is essentially stepping into the line of fire for how they can build trust and earn the best performance from their team.

  1. Set ground rules. Open communication is most critical for any team that is working to overcome challenges. By inviting open dialogue and a safe place to discuss topics that may be uncomfortable or unpopular, you are creating an environment that accepts and reinforces sharing and feedback. By setting expectations and agreeing to how the coach and team will interact and behave will go a long way to building a trusting and open culture.
  2. Reinforce positive behavior. Counterintuitive to traditional football cultures, teams (and organizations with a culture of negativity) need to learn how to encourage, model and reinforce others for positive behavior (on and off the field).
  3. Define a new way to measure success. In football, for example, there is much pressure to measure success by your team’s record. PSU (or organizations accustomed to measuring data that pertains only to the final outcome) needs to find other ways of measuring success. Look at measures that are related to the specific behaviors team members engage in that lead to improved performance, on and off the field.
  4. Check in Daily. When you’re working to improve an already delicate culture, it is most imperative to check in with your team daily. Ask them, “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you succeed?”
  5. Celebrate every win. Especially at the outset, it is so important to celebrate every positive achievement, even those wins that don’t happen on the scoreboard. By reliving accomplishments with your team and/or the individuals, you reinforce the behaviors that got them there. Have these individuals talk about what they did to achieve those positive results.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.