Loss prevention associates are measured and evaluated against the organization’s expectations in a variety of areas. LP managers are ranked based on shrinkage numbers, cash handling in the store, internal and external apprehensions, plus asset recovery, to mention but a few. Many of these tasks are easily measured, while others are more difficult to benchmark. Evaluating interviewer performance is one area that can be difficult to measure against the department’s overall expectations, but can be a major return on investment for the interviewer and organization.
A number of factors will influence an interviewer’s overall success, making it difficult to compare performance between interviewers. Differing employee populations, frequency of cases, interviewer style, training, management support, availability of a mentor, and emphasis on performance are just some of the factors that make it difficult to compare one interviewer against another.
Unfortunately, many interviewers have learned to interview by observing coworkers who may or may not have had the skills to excel in an interview or to train the observer. In other situations, interviewers have been rewarded with a confession even when they have applied improper or ineffective strategies. Receiving this positive result translates into the misguided belief in the strategy’s effectiveness. If novice interviewers had the ability to test strategies in a large number of confrontations, they would discover for themselves the ones that are ineffective, but that requires time and insight. Meanwhile, management is left with a group of interviewers who are each marching to their own drummer.
Why Monitor Interviewer Performance?
There are a number of benefits for monitoring interviewer performance. The primary ones are related to lawsuits, employee morale, shrinkage numbers, and department reputation.
Spending the time to monitor and measure an interviewer’s performance requires an investment of time, effort, and money by the organization. Employee development could be reason enough to institute a program, but it may be easier to justify the effort once a needs analysis has been conducted. Looking at the numbers alone won’t give a clear indication of the skills of the organization’s interviewers. Anyone who has worked in a company for any length of time knows that what should be happening and what really goes on are not always the same.
Prior to making any changes, the pulse of the organization should be taken. What is being done well, and where are the opportunities for change? The most effective way to determine this is through the use of focus groups. When well planned and used effectively, a focus group offers a bright-light solution to quickly identify the opportunities to improve.
It is often useful to bring in a neutral party to act as the moderator for the group discussions. This removes obstacles to communication in the group. Associates will be more candid in their comments and observations when speaking to a third party. Using a third party who understands the business may help give the group’s responses a context and insight that an unfamiliar moderator might not possess. Of course, this assumes the moderator listens and does not encourage a particular outcome toward which he is biased.
Selecting the topics of inquiry is generally done with senior management based on their knowledge of the organization and perception of existing problems. Once these general topics have been determined, the focus group moderator develops questions to explore them and establishes an outline for the focus group’s discussion.
When selecting individuals for the focus groups, it is useful to separate senior management from lower-level associates so there is the freedom to speak candidly at all levels without fear of repercussions. Including various levels of competence in the group may also assist in developing additional insights that would not have come to light otherwise.
The moderator is responsible for controlling the discussion and preventing the meeting from deteriorating into a gripe session or one which is controlled by a single individual. Looking for problems and possible solutions, the moderator explores the agenda and identifies information that may be useful to institute future change. It is here that the moderator explores the methods and techniques used to elicit admissions from dishonest associates during interviews.
Once the moderator has identified the performance baseline for the organization, a plan can be instituted to develop solutions. The next step is to establish best practices against which performance will be measured.
Best Practices for Measuring Interviewer Performance
One of the most disconcerting things to discover from focus groups is that the top performers are not necessarily using best practices to achieve their results. Confessions may be obtained through the use of ineffective strategies, threats or promises, or something not observable when looking at a statistical analysis alone.
Because of their lack of experience, many interviewers fail to follow a plan, instead selecting bits and pieces of things they have observed in an attempt to build “their own style.” Unfortunately, these bits and pieces do not necessarily make for a compatible technique that gives the best return on the investment of their time and energy.
Define Superior Performance. The first decision that management must make is what constitutes superior performance in an LP interview. Using the established policy, the department examines and critiques the performance of investigators as they develop the complaint from inception to conclusion. Each case, with its resulting reports, is matched against the expectations of the department, and the investigator is given feedback on his efforts. It is here that many organizations fails to monitor and measure what occurred afterward in the interview room, simply accepting a successful conclusion has occurred because a confession was obtained.
Determine Preferred Methods. The initial step in developing an interviewer is to determine what strategies will be the preferred pattern of the organization. Many methods and variations could be used to confront a dishonest associate. This alone would make it difficult to mentor a large number of interviewers if they were allowed to mix and match loss prevention interview techniques on a whim. The monitoring program should not be so stringent that it does not allow for a flexibility of options that might be necessary should special circumstances arise. However, there should be a clear preference for a method that gives a consistent, desirable result and against which the interviewer can be evaluated.
Standardize Evaluation. Once the preferred method has been selected, the real work begins to set in place a program that allows the development of the organization’s interviewers against the established benchmarks. Besides the coaching of the interviewer, the organization will standardize the evaluation by creating a universal process against which all interviewers are measured. This process will identify training opportunities and correct inappropriate behavior while encouraging the implementation of techniques that consistently achieve desirable results.
One by-product of this standardization is peace of mind for senior executives, who no longer have to guess what occurs during the interviews. In addition, the organization is focusing on the interviewer’s communication skills, which can have a positive application in so many other areas of the job.
An important component in the development of an interviewer is providing an intellectual understanding of the loss prevention interview process selected. Too often, interviewers are allowed to observe an interview, and, while they see and hear what is being said, they lack an understanding of why it is being done in that way.
The training process supplies the interviewer a context and an overview of the components in which he will later be asked to become competent, plus modeling their proper ruse. Supplemental testing of the interviewers can enhance their retention of the material and confirm their understanding of the content. The training mirrors the benchmarks against which the interviewers will be expected to perform during the interview.
The Role of Coaches. The second component of the program is to train coaches who will evaluate the interviewers’ performance against the established best practices. The coaches must understand the mechanics of each component and use the selected method as their yardstick for measuring interviewer performance. The coaches undergo specialized training to hone their skills at observing and assessing the interview process, while practicing evaluations of the concepts being developed. This turns out to be the key component in making a mentoring program work, since the failure to correctly critique an interviewer results in encouraging inappropriate techniques, plus failing to identify additional training opportunities.
An important part of the coaching experience is learning to give accurate feedback in a positive way that encourages change in the interviewer. The mentor-coach uses modeling, roleplay, and feedback to test understanding and mold the desired change in the interviewer. Changing an interviewer’s existing habits requires consistent practice with feedback in the selected method to reach the desired benchmark of performance.
Practice the Script. The third part of the equation for change is self-practice and critique by the interviewer himself. Having been presented with a model of expected performance, the interviewer, through practice and self-critique, can modify his own performance in anticipation of the required role plays with the mentor coach. The interviewer has received the training and been apprised of the coming expectations of performance so he can now practice to exactly model the material and structure of the interview.
Like with any skill, an individual who wishes to become proficient at interviewing must practice. Expecting to be able to perform without putting in the time to make the skill one’s own will result in sub-par efforts. These efforts will likely be confused and may contain patterns of behavior from what the interviewer used to do. A reversal to old patterns happens because those actions feel comfortable and do not require thinking or effort by the interviewer. The old adage, “Practice like you want to play,” is just as true in interviewing as in sports.
The interviewer can initially prepare by using a written “script” that closely matches the model of the best practice interview. Reading the script multiple times familiarizes the interviewer with the flow of the material and prepares him for following the correct sequence of the interview’s internal structure.
Next, the interviewer reads the script out loud a number of times to hear himself actually say the words. By now the interviewer has practiced the exact model of the structure perhaps a dozen times without the stress of having to improvise the words or flow of the material. At this point, the interviewer reads the script into a tape recorder and reviews his work, listening to the pacing and emphasis of the words. Each listening will help the interviewer modify his delivery making the words sound more natural and spontaneous. This consistent practice allows the interviewer to know what is coming next in the presentation making the transitions between parts more fluid.
Practice without the Script. By now, the material has been practiced enough that it is beginning to replace the former patterns of the interviewer. The next stage of practice is to attempt the presentation without the use of the script.
Again using a recorder, the interviewer goes through the structure using only an outline instead of the entire script. Reviewing the material, the interviewer will identify areas that are missed or misstated. Repeated self-corrections soon lead to ownership of the material with an easy flow and delivery.
Finally, delivering the material without any notes and self-critiquing one’s efforts leads to the final polish of the interviewer’s presentation. The self-critique incorporates many of the facets that the mentor-coach will be looking for during the role plays or actual interviews.
The mentor-coach uses a sheet that lists the preferred structure of the interview and all its subcomponents with space for ranking the interviewer’s efforts. This worksheet can be used by the interviewer or coach to evaluate the performance of the interviewer in role plays or actual interviews. The worksheet includes the structure of the interview so the coach can follow the interviewer’s progress as he moves through the framework. Skipped topics or improper emphases in the structure are noted for feedback at the exercises conclusion. Each area is rated from one to five indicating an ineffective to effective performance.
For example, if the coach was evaluating an interviewer’s handling of denials, these would be some of the areas that would be considered in evaluating effectiveness.
- Interviewer’s timing in recognizing a subject’s emphatic denial was about to occur
- Words or statements that triggered the emphatic denial
- Tone of voice and speed of delivery
- Physical behavior used to stop the subject’s emphatic denial
- Verbal behavior used to stop the subject’s emphatic denial
- Timeliness in re-accusing the subject after a denial
- Effectiveness at handling denials overall
- Effectiveness at avoiding denials all together
- Transition back to rationalization after the denial was handled.
Each of these will have subcategories that will be taken into consideration to determine the overall effectiveness of the interviewer. For example, the interviewer’s words or statements that trigger a subject’s denials have many elements that could be evaluated.
Was the denial triggered by an inappropriate rationalization or by personalizing a rationalization before the subject was ready? Either might cause a subject to deny and the interviewer would need to be coached to correct this even if he was handling denials in a satisfactory manner.
The subject might deny because the interviewer had mistimed the component parts of the interview.
Denials could also be encouraged because the interviewer had misstated evidence or ignored the strength of the individual’s denials.
The complexity of the evaluation requires that the coaches have a clear understanding of the process and the underlying strategies of the chosen method. The mentor-coach is attempting to move the interviewer as close as possible to the best practices model selected by the organization.
One difficulty of this approach is controlling the mentor-coach’s natural tendency to teach outside the system. This requires that the mentor-coaches be monitored to assure a consistent accurate message is being delivered to the interviewer. Remember, the goal is to provide a solid foundation for the interviewer so that he can use that foundation for future growth.
Monitoring the Monitors
The final piece of the program is the commitment by senior management to the success of the program. This will require supervision of the coaches to make sure that the evaluations are being completed with the interviewers and that the feedback is having the desired effect.
This can be accomplished with a reporting system spreadsheet listing the interviewers and their progress.
It is also useful to sample performance on a random basis during visits to the interviewer either with the coach or in his absence to compare the evaluations to actual performance. The larger the number of interviewers, the more difficult it can be to manage without commitment of senior managers.
While this process requires a significant commitment of time and effort, the end result is a significant return on investment, including better performance and case resolution, a more qualified valuable employee, and peace of mind for management.