Winston Churchill said, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.” It is a common and frustrating problem in business: to do our best, to work hard, to put in the effort and the hours, and to still not meet with success. At the core of the issue is a simple misunderstanding, a small misalignment in focus that places the greatest of our resources on a reactive instead of proactive track. In short, efforts are placed in reaction to the managing conditions rather than on the process of managing the conditions.
Business is a living organism made up of people. People who engage in behaviors and take actions both big and small. Those actions have an impact, they make waves and those waves often combine in larger swells. While we often work against those larger waves and see them as the issues to resolve—lest we drown— we seldom spend enough time ensuring the smaller waves, the ones that are at the start of the bigger problems, are dealt with. In this type of scenario we find ourselves and our days being managed by the conditions, instead of managing the conditions.
To make the point more clear, let’s look at a common problem in retail: Internal Theft. It can mostly seem that the primary job of Loss Prevention (LP) is to resolve employee theft issues. And while it is true that LP does serve that function, “theft” is a condition that manages our time. When an employee steals then the resolution of the theft becomes the priority. Meetings are held, investigations planned, employee’s schedules rearranged and investigators are dispatched. Whatever the “plans” were for that week, they are changed to accommodate resolution. In other words, the condition of “theft” is now managing our schedule.
Such changes are, of course, required and necessary. We also know, from experience, that internal theft is a part of our business environment and we will always, to some degree, be required to attend to dishonesty issues. But we do have a choice. We can either remain in semi-complete reactionary mode or we can do, as Churchill states, “what is required” to be a mostly proactive process that occasionally must be reactive. We can decide and then act in a manner that ensures “we” are managing the “conditions” and not being “managed” by those “conditions.”
Which brings us back to an understanding of where the tsunamis of business begin. What are the small waves that combine to form disaster? And what small rocks dropped create those small waves to begin with? In Loss Prevention, most of these small rocks are well-known. We can trace internal theft back to early, seemingly benign, occurrences. We can understand the small steps that lead to big shrink, and we can see the potential unresolved crisis in the very real gaps in accountability.
Managing the conditions doesn’t begin at the crest of the crisis, it begins with a persistent attention to and insistence on the small things. In a way, managing the conditions requires we spend as much time on possibility as we do on probability. For example, why should we care if an employee is collecting price tags? Of what value or concern is such a small action? The answer is in the possibility that the collection of price tags might be used for scanning those tickets. That scanning might be used for adjusting inventory or for fraudulent refunds and those refunds certainly could result in a very large shrink issue. So the action of collecting price tickets becomes the stone, that becomes the wave, that becomes the tsunami of store loss.
These are, of course, extreme examples to make the point. The point, however, illustrates that attending to the small actions means we may never face the large problems or that the problems which are unavoidable remain small enough in numbers to be managed.
There is an entire list of small actions Loss Prevention efforts should be focused on. It is not to suggest that LP efforts and personnel be the voice of “doom and gloom” or that the solution to the problems require a police state of mistrust and harsh reaction. Instead, it is a suggestion that we manage and attend to the small things so we aren’t managed by the big things. Although an exhaustive list would be, well, exhaustive to attempt, here are some of the most critical of small details that can create large explosions.
1. Hiring Practices: The cost of a bad hire is expensive. At the heart of our big issues is hiring the wrong people. Hiring the wrong people is often the result of the “warm body and a pulse” practice. By reviewing and improving our hiring process in terms of interview skills, background checks, and aptitude evaluation, we can ensure we are building an employee foundation with the right people.
2. Policy: Fast and loose policy approach, out-dated policies or the fact that policies are not a part of training create confusion. It also results in “policy myth” whereas employees believe that the wrong way is actually the right way. The small mistakes add up to big issues. Ensuring policies are kept in a brief format (one page), are written in the simplest of terms, and have been tested in the “real world” helps reduce issues of error and misunderstanding.
3. Tracking: The amount of time it takes to fill out a log pales in comparison to the length and cost of an investigation. A simple series of entries, electronic or otherwise, helps to both recognize an issue early on and provides a trail in the event of an problem. Employee purchase logs, deposit logs, cash shortages are some basic examples of simple but beneficial tracking tools.
4. Accountability: People are not quick to put there name on something that may be incorrect. There is a powerful psychology behind the act of initialing or “approving” an action. Studies show that people are far more confident when giving a verbal testimony than when being asked to put the same in writing. Asking an employee to verify a process, a return, a deposit helps to ensure a greater accuracy and less dishonesty. If one still questions the benefit, imagine how simple it would be to resolve an issue such as password sharing if every employee’s password was their social security number?
5. Auditing: As stated, the difference between managing conditions and being managed by them is the ability to see the small things before they become large things. Audits are a tool designed exactly for this purpose. It is the most important “pro-active” function of a loss prevention department. Within the results are all the small things that can be corrected today.
Although we can’t avoid every crisis, we can still remain in control of our daily work lives. When we focus our attention on the rocks instead of fighting the waves we take the first step to improving performance rather than being crushed beneath production. A professional, a team, or an organization that manages the conditions has a more process driven approach to goals, less stress, and enjoys far greater success.
Authored by: Ray Esposito