Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Original Not So Charitable Review

I was critical of Potential's promotional materials so it was only fair I read it...

This is a pre-publication draft of my review of Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success, written by Bill Whitmore, published by Highpoint Executive Publishing, New York. ISBN: 978-0-98394-320-4.  It was submitted to Security Management magazine for publication.  Their lead time was going to be several months so Barry Nixon asked to published it in the April issue of his The Workplace Violence Prevention eReport. 

Corporate America badly needs a book that demonstrates to the C-suite the value of creating positive, pro-active, and progressive security programs that advance the interests of modern businesses. There is little need for another workplace violence book that grabs the attention of its reader with misused statistics, but then focuses only on a fraction of the problem. That makes the title of Bill Whitmore’s book than a little ironic. Potential has the makings of great book on security leadership, but it is all but ruined by its attempt to be merely another guide to preventing workplace violence.

Bill Whitmore’s story of how he led the effort to transform Allied-Barton into a learning enterprise that actively engages in employee development might have been a great read if he had focused on that story. Leadership professional Whitmore makes much of truth telling and honesty, but the writer of this workplace violence book tells the reader, "Every day, on average, two people are killed and 87 injured as a result of a workplace violence incident."

Perhaps Whitmore was convinced to use the raw numbers to shock consumers into buying his book so they would then have a chance to absorb his positive and proactive leadership message. Perhaps his publisher was concerned that his C-suite audience, shopping for some in-flight reading at the airport bookstore, would not be so strongly motivated to buy his book if they knew that killings perpetrated by customers, coworkers, or intimate partners combined represented a total of about 157 deaths nationwide in 2010, or 3% of all workplace fatalities. "Every 2.3 days one person is killed in what most people think of as a workplace violence incident," is not nearly so catchy a tagline as one taken from the aggregated statistics, which include deaths due robbery-homicides and workplace suicides.

So, once Whitmore hooks his reader does he break down the numbers to explain the multifaceted problems they represent? Does he explain that 69% of all homicides at work are committed by criminals during robberies? Only in passing. Does Whitmore address workplace suicide, which accounts for a third of all workplace deaths due to assaults and violent acts? Briefly, using one excellent example. Does he explain that 61% of all workplace violence injuries are caused by healthcare patients and residents of long-term care facilities? Only briefly, but mostly while focusing on gun-play in hospital emergency departments. Whitmore does propose adding a new category for “terrorists and true believers,” even though there have been only a handful of such attacks committed in the past 25 years.

As with many other workplace violence books, Whitmore chose to focus primarily on the verbal abuse, bullying, intimidation, threats, and violence perpetrated by disgruntled employees. Regrettably, this segment constitutes only 12% of all workplace homicides. Death at the hands of customers, coworkers, and intimate partners, accounts for 31% of the 506 workplace murders in 2010. Is that too many? Absolutely, but 157 is not 506. And 506 is half the more than 1000 workplace killings that occurred each year in the early 1990s.

There are many important issues to resolve as we address the multifaceted problem grouped under the heading workplace violence. Robbery prevention and survival training, defensive tactics and protective equipment for police and security personnel, assault prevention in healthcare and social services, humane management practices, prohibitions against horseplay, zero tolerance for verbal abuse, bullying, intimidation, and all other forms of harassment, quality mental health benefits, and screening for depression are all techniques that might be used to create a workplace violence prevention and response program that meets an organization’s business needs. Whitmore leaves many of these options unexamined.

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.

Despite its limitations one hope that Potential is successful enough to give Bill Whitmore the opportunity to write the book that this one might have been, a book that demonstrates to the C-suite the value of creating positive, pro-active, and progressive security programs that advance the interests of modern businesses.

Hyperbole and hysteria have no place in the security professional’s approach to important issues. Bill Whitmore, the gifted leadership professional who wrote Potential knows this. If only he had trusted in the strength of his message. 

[As noted in an earlier post, this version was too edgy, so Barry asked for something kinder and gentler.]

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?