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High Risk Terminations

We are considering the termination of an employee for threatening and abusive behaviour. How do we assess whether this person may retaliate or be a risk when terminated?

David Ray
Grant Thornton
Assessing the risk of retribution or violence during or after termination of an employee is always a subjective process, but there are warning signs that the employer can watch for to assess whether extra precautions should be taken. An employee who could be described as a “loner” or who exhibits brooding or depressive behaviour may be a higher risk at the time of termination. Employers who have been through this type of analysis or who have been subjected to violence or threats in the course of a termination often describe the ex-employee as a “time bomb”. These are often people who either have a great deal of stress in their life or are generally having trouble dealing with reality and therefore present as unreasonably introspective. They often do not have the resources or the ability to discuss and resolve their issues with counsellors, family or friends.

Another personality type to watch for is the bully or the intimidator. These people may not necessarily act out their threats but their behaviour has always worked in the past in helping them achieve what they want. The one point where these people may become dangerous is where they realize that bullying is not going to save their job and they will lose face by not following through with their threats. These people will sometimes tend to overreact to situations at the work site or may have a history of intentional violation of company policies.

Although many stable people enjoy a hobby of collecting or shooting firearms, high risk individuals often exhibit an undue fascination with weapons or may frequently talk about previous incidents of violence. In one case an employee told coworkers that she was going to “turn this place into another Columbine”, referring to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. In another case, a company was going through some downsizing and a supervisor who believed he was going to be terminated brought his rifle into work. He did not threaten anyone with it but simply sat in his office and cleaned his gun. This obviously caused a great deal of stress for his staff and others in the company and required that the organization explore preventive measures. The company had never considered in the past that they may need a “no firearms at work” policy.

Another characteristic often exhibited by those prone to violence is the inability to accept personal responsibility. In these cases the person will blame others for any problems that may occur at the work site or in their personal lives. They tend to be self righteous and react unduly to any attempt at coaching or constructive criticism and will blame coworkers, the organization, the government or others for anything which may be viewed as a flaw in their performance. These people have an amazing ability to rationalize their behaviour and, in one case, an abusive employee was unwittingly accurate when he stated, “My personality clouds people’s judgment of me”.

Addiction issues may also be a red flag for individuals who may be prone to violence. People who are normally rational may act in an irrational manner under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Addiction issues often also bring financial, family and other personal problems that may increase the level of stress with the individual and may cause them to act out in the course of termination when they would not normally have done so.

David Ray BA, LL.B. is Senior Practice Leader Security and Investigations with Grant Thornton LLP based in their Calgary office. Grant Thornton is a leading firm of business advisors with offices throughout Canada and an international network of over 600 offices in 100 countries.

Promoting from Within

Q: One of the business units I’m responsible for has grown too large for me to supervise. I’m going to solve the problem by creating a team leader role for the group and have that person report to me. I’d prefer to hire internally if I can and I do have a good employee who has said she’d like an opportunity to whip the department into shape. Is this a good idea?

The key to success for this employee (as is usually the case with issues of career management) will be in how she goes about building healthy and productive new relationships with all of the people she will be working with, former coworkers included.

The statistics on how often new leaders fail to meet expectations when first stepping into a senior role are staggering. For example, a Manchester Consulting survey indicated that 40% of new leaders don’t fully measure up within the first 18 months on the job – and this includes both managers who are just joining the company and those who, like your candidate, have been promoted internally. The report, which surveyed 826 Human Resources leaders, determined that the single most important reason for this disappointing outcome is “a failure to build good relationships with peers and subordinates”.

The transition from colleague to boss can be tricky, particularly if the new leader comes to the job with the objective of “whipping the department into shape”. My first piece of advice is to be sure that your new manager is sensitive to the fact that she will be “under the microscope” for at least the first three or four months. All of her coworkers (not just her new reports) will be wondering how she will go about adjusting to her new responsibilities and how the change will affect their relationship with her.

A little humility goes a long way. You’ll want to coach her to communicate to her colleagues the message that she’s excited about this opportunity and that she realizes how important their support will be in making this a successful transition. If she has ideas about how things can be improved she can certainly speak about them. She will want to create enthusiasm around her vision and begin to establish her position as leader. At the same time though, she should remember that every vision of the future implies change to the status quo, and change is almost guaranteed to create anxiety among the people who will be affected by it.

She can’t expect 100% support for whatever plans she has, but communicating a persuasive vision of the benefits of the changes she has in mind rather than simply telling people what they need to do differently will make her job much easier. There will be times when she may simply have to “lay down the law” (it’s one of the requirements of leadership). But she should try to make these times the exception rather than the rule.

It would be a good idea for her to check out what other people are thinking too. The trick is to solicit their input without committing herself to implementing their recommendations. The message could be something like this - “I can’t promise that I’ll be able to act on any suggestions I get, but I would like to find out what one or two things you would change if you could”.

I’d suggest that the best way to collect this information is in one-on-one meetings with her new direct reports. If she can demonstrate that she is genuinely interested in them and in their opinions, she will be taking a giant step towards building the productive relationships she will need to be successful. Point out to her that people don’t tend to care about what we know until they know that we care.

Help her understand that she shouldn’t try to change the world over night. If at all possible, the first few changes she brings about should be small “no-brainers”. It’s much better to go for a base hit than a home run. Encourage her to choose the “low hanging fruit”. The changes she feels, based on her discussion with staff, will be generally well received. This will give people confidence that she’s not about to pull the rug out from under them and will lead them to considering the possibility that having her as their new boss may work out just fine.

Finally, everyone starting a new role goes through a “transition deficit”, which is the period of time it takes them to get up to speed with their new responsibilities. So don’t imagine that hiring internally is any more problematic than recruiting from outside the company. The Manchester survey I quoted earlier determined that this learning curve takes, on average, about 6 months to negotiate. Two of the most common pit falls for new leaders during this period of time (after a failure to build relationships with peers and subordinates) are confusion or uncertainty about what the boss wants and a lack of understanding as to which of the many objectives are the truly critical ones. As her boss, you can help significantly in this regard.

Philip Blackford is Vice President Executive Career Transition Services with Right Management.

Implementation of Global Policies

A lot of companies have attempted to implement "global" policies. Do they work?

Terri Oliver
Resources Inc.
While global policies are certainly growing in popularity, to be effective, they must be implemented in accordance with the local norms/practices of each of your target destination and departure regions, and that requires local expertise. One of our major clients has had great success with its global policy, which is supported by service centers in each major region-the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific-to ensure timeliness, responsiveness across time zones, and the most effective global counselling. In our experience, global policies are best executed by providers who know the client's policy and have a global team of trained specialists who can offer crucial "on the ground" assistance and expertise to your assignees, and who are also well-versed on policy, procedures and service performance metrics. This is the only way to ensure consistency throughout the entire process.

Terri Lynn Oliver is Client Service Director for Weichert Relocation Resources Inc. Terri Lynn may be contacted at


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