The best way to avoid loss is to not experience any losses. That statement appears a matter of common sense and a proclamation of the obvious. And yet, we don’t always do a great job at asset protection. The core issue lies in both the types of actions taken and the efforts placed on the most successful strategy—deterrence.
To understand the short falls of deterrence, we must first separate it from processes meant to apprehend and those meant to protect. True deterrence doesn’t operate like a locked door and it’s not necessarily an investigative device such as a camera system or an exception based reporting software. In other words, a heavy steal gate doesn’t deter theft, it prevents theft by removing entry in the same way that our video recording doesn’t stop behavior, but helps us discover the individual responsible for the behavior. These devices are necessary and helpful, but they are limited in their benefits—a gate can only protect things behind it and a camera can only catch actions in front of it. Deterrence, when properly executed, however, operates within the individual and is not subject to the limits of physical space.
Good deterrence provides three critical components to theft reduction. First, they remove or complicate opportunity. People don’t like to do things that are difficult, so by creating extra work to achieve dishonesty, we reduce the frequency. A potentially dishonest person views the costs as greater than the rewards.
The second component is removal of the psychological rationalizations available. Experience demonstrates that most people who commit a dishonest act do not overtly consider him or herself a thief. This is not a superficial belief, as they really don’t equate taking ten dollars from the cash register with taking the same amount from a stranger’s wallet. To support their belief they create brain semantics and call the theft borrowing or they rely on false promises of their intentions to “pay it back.” Proper deterrence works to ensure they cannot justify such potential actions, that they are fully aware that the behavior is wrong.
The third, and final component of good deterrence is the use of fear and the announcement of punishment. The human brain works on a stream of cost/benefit analysis. Each action is weighed in terms of the benefit it provides and the cost required. When cost is greater than benefit the action diminishes. Since most theft involves only a short-term analysis of the cost benefit as in “what happens today,” deterrence can act to remind the person of the real long-term costs. Things like termination or prosecution. Because most thieves score low on measures of delayed gratification, strong reminders can serve to reduce the behavior.
Deterrence, however, often fails not due to its inherent shortcomings, but on the volume used to communicate it. Honest people often assume that every one else either knows better or can weigh the obvious problems created by bad behavior. Unfortunately, that is not entirely true. In between those who would never steal and those who will always steal, is a vast stretch of people who may or may not steal depending on opportunity, impulse, or exterior forces and conditions. These are the people who most benefit from deterrence measures, if, and only if, the measures reach a level of awareness.
Today, we are inundated with messages and communication. Television, radio, the Internet, and dozens of social media sites compete for our attention. We counter the information overload by reducing the attention paid to any particular source. More people view YouTube than read any national newspaper, the most frequently watched videos don’t exceed two minutes of run time, and six-second Vine videos receive more clicks than most six-figure advertisements.
To overcome these obstacles and have our deterrence messages heard, we have to ensure the message meets certain standards:
1. It must either reduce opportunity, remove rationalization or strongly demonstrate the negative costs of bad actions.
2. It must be loud enough, that means a message that is present, bold, and frequent. A single line in an employee handbook or a presumption of common sense doesn’t create a deterrent.
3. It must have clarity of intent. Deterrence works when the message’s receiver understands that our purpose is to convince them “not to do it.” We may wish to maintain the secrecy of our investigative techniques, but in deterrence we want potential wrong-doers to know all the reasons they shouldn’t do something, some of the ways we will catch them, and the range of possible bad outcomes.
It’s fair to argue that deterrence doesn’t work on all individuals. Loss Prevention professionals accept that some people will steal regardless of our measures. But what is true of that statement is that these individuals represent a small subgroup of employees and that they tend to overcome even the highest security measures we can take in a retail setting. Truly dishonest employees circumvent locked safes, pass code protection, camera angles, and cash controls. But deterrent measures still have impact on the hopelessly dishonest, if only to make these folks more cautious and reduce the frequency of their thefts.
Your company’s deterrence measures are worth an objective review. Are they doing what they are intended to do? Are they present in the din of competing information? Is there razor clarity in the message? And, most importantly, are they loud enough?
We can’t stop them all and we can’t catch them all, but deterrence done right, can keep those on the ledge from stepping off and that’s both good for them and us.
Authored by: Ray Esposito
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