Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ft. Hood Tragedy: Work Place Violence and Work Place Culture

“Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood” was issued last week by an independent review board concerning the shootings at Ft. Hood. While the report and the comments of Defense secretary Robert Gates focused on the lack of preparedness and the inadequacy of the means to collect and to share information, the report also referenced the failure of supervision and inadequate evaluations, weaknesses not limited to the military.

What occurred at Ft. Hood was the latest episode of work place violence. The setting just happened to be an Army base and occurred against the backdrop of the war on terrorism. The questions that arose are the same as in any work place violence tragedy: Could this have been prevented? Were there any signs that the shooter might do this? Didn’t anyone observe conduct that was a clue?

The report found that there were discrepancies between the documented performance in official records and actual performance during training, residency, and fellowship. The report noted, “Some signs were clearly missed; others ignored.” The report stated that the serious effects of failure “to reflect fully, accurately, and completely on all aspects of professional, ethical, and personal career development in performance appraisals” must be reinforced. The ability to deal with internal threats is dependant on the quality of information official records. The report also recommended the failure of some medical officers, including the failure to include overall performance as an officer rather that solely academic performance warranted further review.

The report found, that while programs and policies existed for prevention and intervention in a number of areas, there was insufficient guidance concerning work place violence and self radicalization. These deficiencies should be corrected with revised policies procedures addressing violence in the work place.

News reports quoting unidentified sources state that Nidal Hassan routinely got ratings of satisfactory and outstanding even though he had a history of poor performance and low grades. Apparently because of a shortage of majors in the medical corps, the promotion board was authorized to consider captains who were not otherwise considered.

The Army is certainly not the first employer that had an evaluation procedure fail because of those charged with implementing it. A problem employee was passed along with evaluations that did not reflect the reality of the performance. While the supervisors involved now face discipline, the Army will ultimately have to address the culture that led to such a breakdown. Accountability is a critical component of a successful evaluation procedure. Supervisors must feel that accurate assessments will not be ignored in the name of political correctness.

Violence in the work place is synonymous with the military, except it is usually channeled externally. The Army, like a number of employers, apparently did not feel it could occur and did not implement a plan. As a result, it chose not to take steps that may well have prevented the shootings. Now it has to not only explain its failure but also to develop and implement an effective work place violence policy.

Employers who believe that work place violence cannot occur to their employees should use the lesson of Ft. Hood and take action now. Prevention is easier than apology. While the subject of work place violence is not pleasant, failing to assess and implement a plan in today’s setting borders on being inexcusable.

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