Tomorrow I fly to Philadelphia to put 26 Master’s degree students in a worst case scenario. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years with Dr. Larry Barton, who is an expert in Crisis Management and Violence in the Workplace issues. Dr. Barton and I have worked together for Disney, ABC, ESPN, Target, Nike, Merck, and several other companies.
Dr. Barton has written several books and has an endless number of case studies of workplace violence. As the expert, he organizes the seminars and is the instructor. I try to make it real.
In each case my job is to give the person or team the worst case scenario. Sometimes I am the troubled employee that is ready to commit a violent act and take them with me. Sometimes I am one of two ’employees’ that are in conflict the Threat Assessment Team has to figure out who is stalking whom.
In Philadelphia I get to do the fun role. I am the CEO who has just taken over a company and the students, (all of them have jobs in the real world), have to interview with me to keep their job. At the end of the day we debrief and I let them know who goes, who stays, and why. I try to make the scenario as real as possible. To do that I have to create a back story in my mind of what type of person my character is, his management style, what he values, and what he dislikes.
Like all worst case scenarios, the students are never told in advance what they will be undergoing. It is safe to say if you’re in a seminar with Dr. Barton and I walk in, the day is going to be stressful. It used to be stressful for me also, but I have gotten to a comfort level with challenging people in an educational setting.
As a potential violent employee I control the situation, which is similar to real life, but I always hope that I truly am the worst case they will ever experience in simulation or in real life. The goal of the seminar is to help the participants recognize a problem and deal with it before it becomes a crisis.
As the take-over CEO I ask the probing questions, but the student must present themselves in a manner that they feel will help preserve his or her job….or not. I always try to keep the scenario positive and give the students reasons to want to stay with the new company, but in order to keep it real I let them know that my expectations will not be the same that they had with their old company. I have had situations where the student didn’t even care if they kept their real-life job, so pretending to keep a job in a simulated environment was impossible for them.
The interesting thing about the exercise is that I get to know the students as real people and often I find myself wishing that I would have the opportunity to work with them in a non-simulated environment. Going through a stressful situation brings people closer, just like real life.