AP Fundamentals: Managing Investigations

As a loss prevention professional, it is important to have a global outlook and well-rounded approach to the retail environment. In today’s retail environment it is essential to be flexible, open-minded, and prepared for the many challenges that impact the needs of the retail customer and, ultimately, the way the business operates. We must recognize our place in the bigger picture and find a balance that leads to greater productivity and higher achievement. Loss prevention professionals are in fact retail professionals and partners in the successful operation of the business.

But while a global view and a balanced perspective of the retail world is absolutely essential to a successful loss prevention career, the ability to investigate remains a skill that sets the loss prevention professional apart from most other retail professionals. The passion to solve a problem, methodically and objectively gathering the pieces and separating fact from conjecture; the analytical process of finding substance in the core of uncertainty; and the intuition to find answers when others can only see questions is initially what drew many into the loss prevention field. We enjoy the search as much as the solution and find fulfillment as we unlock the unexplained.

A Search for the Truth

When it comes to managing any investigation, balance and integrity must always drive the decision-making process. Investigations are a search for truth. It is a systematic, detailed examination or inquiry intended to uncover facts and find answers. Ideally, we want those answers to uncover the cause, define the particulars, and produce a result that leads to solutions. Beyond discovery, this process may include collecting, recording, analyzing, evaluating, and reporting our findings. But regardless of the type of investigation, the purpose of the investigation is to ascertain the facts. Loss prevention investigations should be organized and methodical, and should always be conducted without bias or prejudice. Once the facts are determined through the process of investigation, decisions on how to react to those findings are easier to establish and resolve.

- Sponsors -

While investigations may originate for any number of reasons, most loss prevention investigations focus in some way on revealing the causes of company losses. The investigative process is fundamental to determining the causes of loss no matter where we believe the source of that loss may originate, or where the results of our investigation might take us. Often, the source of the loss is dishonesty, but there are other potential causes of loss that can have tremendous impact on the success of the business, which are no less important for us to investigate.

By the same respect, retail presents diverse investigative opportunities, and investigations may become necessary for other reasons as well. This can lead us down untraveled roads and in various directions based on the needs of the organization. Our professional perspective must remain unbiased, our mindset global, and our intuition sharp as we maintain our focus and attention on the needs of the organization to pursue investigative objectives.

Influencing Improvement

In retail loss prevention, investigations shouldn’t simply produce results—they should promote action. If we are truly looking to serve the best interests of the business, our solutions should reach beyond correction and influence improvement. Investigations are often considered reactionary, as they typically occur after a certain event (usually a negative episode) has taken place. However, the results of our investigations can also be used as a proactive means to deter similar issues moving forward. Once we have determined the root cause of a particular issue, the results of our investigation can be useful in determining additional controls and corrective measures to deter the same types of issues from happening again.

An investigation shouldn’t be approached as merely a practice that is followed, but a process that is managed. Every investigation is multi-faceted. A variety of steps are required in the investigative process from initiation of the case, through the collection and analysis of evidence and information, the findings gathered along the way, the conclusions reached, the actions that result, and finally the closing of the investigation. While we must be methodical and meticulous in our approach, we must also be creative and flexible—willing and able to allow the investigation to unfold in accord with the multitude of variables that will come into play. Each will have its own unique traits. Each will present us with distinct challenges. Our minds must remain open, our decisions sound, our judgments grounded, and our conclusions drawn based on the facts. Once those conclusions have been presented, resulting actions will be pursued by the appropriate decision makers with the best interests of the company in mind, within the parameters of legal and professional guidelines and protocol.

The talents of even the most skilled investigators must be harnessed, controlled and developed. We may have a suspicious nature, be a bulldog for details, and hold a keen sense for problem-solving—but that alone isn’t enough. It is through the application of our skills that we set ourselves apart. We must possess the foresight to understand our environment; learning the business of retail and the opportunities that exist so that we can apply behavior with circumstance. We have to learn the tools of the trade so that we can maximize efficiency and productivity. We must maintain an awareness of our role so that we can operate as peers and as partners. We have to develop the hindsight to learn from our experiences so that we can become better each and every time a new challenge presents itself.

As retail marches forward, the face of the business is changing at an incredible pace. The need for new skill sets and greater flexibility has led to many new roles and responsibilities within the industry. For investigative minds there remain many opportunities—and these roles continue to expand. The mounting complexity of criminal activity and the global reach of criminal networks require that, as professionals, we possess the skills necessary to interact with people inside and outside of the organization. Technological advances have allowed for the integration of data management tools, more complex reporting systems, and real-time analysis of critical business operations. The result has been the advent of many new and exciting roles as the profession continues to move forward.

By capitalizing on opportunities to enhance our knowledge and education we are making an investment in our own future. We can all get better at what we do and focusing on the fundamentals is always a good place to start. The value of education begins with acknowledging the need to learn and improve and refining our investigative skills should always remain an active part of our personal development plan.

Stay Updated

Get critical information for loss prevention professionals, security and retail management delivered right to your inbox.