Let me start by offering my sincere condolences, sympathies, and extreme outrage for what happened in Tucson last week. It’s shameful, scary, and disheartening that we somehow fail over and over again to keep people like Jared Lee Loughner from screwing with what is otherwise a civilized society. Once the finger-pointing begins, the media invariably starts poking around to see if they can ‘help’ us piece together the tragedy. Invariably, that involves talking to people who were regularly exposed to the assailant. And invariably, those people say one of two things: “he seemed like a normal guy” or “he freaked me out.” After speaking with some of Loughner’s classmates, CNN reports it was pretty much the later in his case. And if you take the time to consider some of the things this nut job did in class and on campus, one can only scratch their heads and ask, “why the hell didn’t someone do something more about this guy?” Pima County Sheriff’s Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar further confounds us by suggesting that these incidents “[did] not add up in their totality to anything that would cause a police officer to say, ‘This guy is going to go out there and shoot 20 people.’” And this is where it always breaks down…people fail to see the signs and then they fail to get the right people involved.
While it feels kind of cheap to analogize this tragedy to Human Resources and the workplace, I’m going to risk it anyway. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down with a manager to discuss an issue concerning one of their employees, only to have them recount a litany of crazy stupid things said employee has done over the last several weeks…months…even years. Why the hell is this the first time I’m hearing about this? Is it the manager’s fault? Sure, they have some responsibility for bringing this stuff to light. But guess what, HR: it’s your responsibility to make sure the manager does so! First of all, it’s your job to heighten their awareness to the kinds of things that require further attention – the tell-tale signs of poor performance, inappropriate behaviors, and risk. Then it’s your job to make sure they know what to do when they see a sign – to make sure they clearly understand and accept their duty to act. That’s right, it’s a duty. They don’t have a say in the matter; it is an obligation (and often a legal one) to do something. That something might be as simple as bringing it to HR. And if that’s the only thing you teach them to do without fail, it might very well be enough.
I dislike our job of policing as much as the next guy, but it is a very important part of our job none-the-less. Not unlike a Neighborhood Watch Group, your managers are your eyes and ears of the organization. They are your ambassadors for protecting your employees from violations of policy, law, or safety. But it’s your duty to make sure they are effective ambassadors.
Image Credit: Manic Toys