Friday, May 25, 2012

The More Charitable Review

Of Potential by Bill Whitmore...

Barry Nixon asked to publish my review of Bill Whitmore's new book, but he didn't care for my first impressions of Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational SuccessHe asked me to try again.  Here is my rewritten review.

Bill Whitmore, the Chairman and CEO of Allied-Barton Security Services, has written a book about leading his company as it grew to become one of the largest manned guarding vendors in the country. Corporate America badly needs a book that demonstrates to the C-suite the value of creating a positive, proactive, and progressive security culture in modern businesses. Bill Whitmore’s story of how he guided the effort to make Allied-Barton an employee-centered learning enterprise that embodies the modern principles of servant leadership and continuous staff development is good and could be better if it were to focus on that story. This makes the title of Whitmore’s book more than a little ironic. Potential is a potentially great book on security leadership that is diluted by its workplace violence theme, which feels added on.

This isn’t a bad book on workplace violence, if you – like most people – take that term to mean homicides perpetrated in your office or factory by clients and customers, co-workers and former co-workers, or estranged husbands and boyfriends. Whitmore chooses to focus primarily on the means by which companies can prevent, detect, and respond to threats and violence perpetrated by co-workers and former co-workers. To his immense credit, Whitmore calls on business executives to create corporate cultures that do not tolerate verbal abuse, bullying, and intimidation. However, he stops of short of admitting what most employees know, that in many companies much of the verbal abuse, bullying, and intimidation is perpetrated by supervisors, managers, and executives. 

Potential is not the book you need if your concerns include protecting police officers or security personnel from violent line-of-duty deaths, or saving retail and service employees from robbery homicides. Whitmore also misses the chance to call out suicide as an under-appreciated menace to American businesses. Whitmore briefly mentions the topic of suicide at work, using a powerful example to do so, but he does not expand upon the impact of this growing trend. Security, safety, and human resources professionals will need to go elsewhere for detailed guidance on these topics, which account for the vast majority of violent deaths at work each year.

There are other issues to resolve as we address the complex and multifaceted problem called workplace violence. Crime prevention for cab drivers, protective equipment and training for security personnel, humane management practices, prohibitions against horseplay, screening for depression, and quality mental health insurance benefits are among the many tools an organization may draw upon to create a workplace violence prevention and response program that meets its specific business needs. Whitmore addresses some of these issues, but not all of them, which causes Potential to fall short.

Despite my misgivings, I sincerely hope that Potential is successful enough to give Whitmore the opportunity to write the book this one might have been, a book that demonstrates to the C-suite the value of creating a positive, proactive, and progressive security program in modern corporations. Security is an under-appreciated contributor to corporate culture and business success, an idea Bill Whitmore clearly understands. Given that your CEO is unlikely to read a book on security leadership, if Potential is the only book he reads about workplace violence you could do worse.

Reviewer Bio:

Michael Brady, MA, CPP, is an account manager, consultant, and trainer for Hannon Security Services, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN. Michael is also an adjunct instructor in the Security Management program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota School of Graduate and Professional Programs. He recently completed his Master of Arts in Human Development during which he focused on issues of leadership, team building, and problem solving. He blogs on critical thinking, ethics, leadership, and other topics at

UPDATE: Allied Barton is now advertising that visitors to  will receive a promo code with which to download an eBook copy of Potential. Wonder if I'm the only person who purchased a copy at retail?

1 comment:

  1. Michael,

    This looks like a balanced review of a book that I have not read. You give credit to areas of workplace violence that were covered as well as voicing concerns about areas not covered as well, e.g., suicides, safety-related, line-of-duty and robber homicides, which you state account for the vast majority of violent deaths. I'm curious if Mr. Whitmore used statistical data on "workplace violence" incidents without detailed categorization which might have inflated the numbers but only addressed the smaller segment of categories. I know this is a pet peeve… well that
    term minimizes a real concern. Also, and the main question for me is did Mr. Whitmore add anything new to the discussion on workplace violence prevention?

    I agree with your conclusion that a CEO is unlikely to read this or other books on security leadership. This book is marketed to security managers/executives so I'm curious about your take on who Mr. Whitmore was addressing. Was his audience corporate executives or security executives or both? Therein lies the biggest problem within in the security industry and you make reference to it in your closing paragraph. How do we get security to be more appreciated in corporate culture?
    It really needs to be driven from the top down and that means the top security executive needs to have influence with the CEO and the corporate executive staff.

    I'm reminded of the situation at a company I worked at. This company had a fairly respected security department but it fell short on influencing the executive management. This was apparent in the failure of the executive protection program.
    Certainly there was a superficial executive protection program and it might have looked sufficient to a novice. I realize that acceptance of such a program by executives is a common problem within many corporations which make the question of influence paramount.

    Another example of the lack of executive influence (and the under appreciation of the profession) became apparent when a group of security managers questioned HR about the grade levels of our positions compared to colleagues in other disciplines such as facilities and HR. Apparently we were suffering from the glass ceiling syndrome since our top security position was not a VP position. The definition given to us was that a VP position was defined as being filled by a person who had direct influence with the CEO. That definition did not apply to human resources and other support groups that had tens of VP positions that I know did not have direct influence with the CEO.

    So the real issue is that the top security person must have influence with the CEO and executive staff to drive security initiatives. He or she cannot do that if they're not at the meetings. It cannot be done (adequately) by proxy; by an HR or Facilities VP. To be fair, this company I speak of had an decent workplace violence prevention program. Could it have been better? Of course. Security was involved in the program but I believe it was driven by HR more than security. But that's nit-picking. If the program has corporate support does it matter who drove it initially? It is as much an HR concern as security's.

    Back to the book… certainly a CEO of a security company can work to develop a "progressive security culture" within his own company since the CEO is a security professional himself. That is the company's Raison d'ĂȘtre. It would be interesting if he had experience in contributing to the development of such cultures within his clients' companies. With that ability one could implement numerous policies and programs, not just workplace violence prevention, that would benefit businesses. That would be a book worth reading.

    I know there are books and even university programs that focus on security executives developing their powers of influence so I might have jumped the tracks here. But at least they are parallel tracks leading to the same goal.