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Coaching Lessons for Managing Your Loss Prevention Team

Some of the most rewarding experiences in my work life have involved building teams. It has always been my opinion that the strength and quality of your team is directly proportional to the results.

With responsibility for loss prevention, new store development, and service operations, my primary function at work is leading teams of individuals to success. After 20+ years of retail experience, I thought I understood loss prevention team leadership. But in raising and coaching my son, I learned some things that have changed the way I view my teams at work.

Father of Three

I am a father of three—two girls, Alexis and Hannah, and then there is Daniel, who is the youngest. Until Daniel came along, I didn’t realize how different it was raising a boy. It was evident early on that he was not at all like his sisters. While he grew up in a world of dolls and tea sets, he was no more interested in those things than he was in eating the pureed green beans we tried to feed him. He was all about trucks, tools, cowboys, and army men.

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Daniel grew up watching his sister Hannah play soccer. Every Saturday in the spring and fall, Hannah would have a game and Daniel would be there. When he was old enough, I would have him run out to the middle of the field and touch the center line every time the teams took a break. He loved showing off how fast he could run. By the end of the game he was worn out and ready for a nap. Of course, that was my plan because I loved a nice Saturday afternoon nap as well.

As Daniel learned to kick the soccer ball, we would go to Hannah’s game early so he would practice kicking the ball into the goal. He loved trying to get one past me. We had fun, but I never really considered putting him on a team because he was so young.
Eventually Daniel came to me after one of Hannah’s games and said that he wanted to be on a team. I explained to him that the season had already started and that he would have to wait until spring. I never expected him to go through with it.

But spring came, and sure enough, Daniel remembered. So I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. I copied applications and handed them out in his preschool class so that some of his little friends might play with him on his team.

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The plan was flawless—or so I thought. Several parents responded and gave me applications so that we could all turn them in at once with the hope of getting the kids on the same team. I took them down to the clubhouse and submitted the whole package.

In about three weeks I received a message that the team rosters and uniforms could be picked up the following Saturday at the clubhouse. When I told Everything I Learned in Life I Learned from Coaching My 4-Year-Old’s Soccer TeamDaniel that Friday night, he could hardly sleep. When he woke up Saturday morning, he dressed himself in his soccer practice uniform that he had received from our friends for Christmas. He came into my bedroom ready to go.

When we arrived at the clubhouse, I picked up the roster and noticed that about six of his classmates had been placed on his team. He was so excited. They told us to go to the other end of the fields to pick up his jersey and ball. Several young high school soccer players were there helping distribute the uniforms. I handed one my sheet. He handed me a bag full of uniforms, balls, and shin guards. I told him Daniel would probably need a small. “These are all yours,” he said.

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“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Is that your name at the top of the sheet here?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Well, you are the coach. These are the uniforms for the whole team.”

Daniel turned and looked at me with a huge smile on his face. “Dad, you are going to be our coach? Yippee!”

Now, I knew little to nothing about coaching a soccer team, but I did know that this was not a time to let my son down. I swallowed hard and said, “It sure looks like it.”

“Yippee!” he yelled again jumping up and down. As we walked back to the car with the equipment bag slung over my shoulder, I pondered how I was going to meet the demands of such a position given my lack of experience.

The next nine weeks were truly eye-opening for me. I learned more about management in those nine weeks than I had in the previous twenty-three years. What I learned applies not only to soccer and coaching a team, but it also applies to every facet of management, including being a loss prevention team manager. Following are some of my observations.

I learned that every child is different. They respond to different stimuli.

Never use a shotgun approach with people. Every individual is different. Sometimes with adults, it is more difficult to see than with children. Find out what makes them tick. This approach is equally important when dealing with dishonest employees or criminals.

I learned that what motivates one child may not motivate another.

What motivates your associates? Is it public recognition? Is it money? Rewards? Find out what that item is and then use that motivating factor to your benefit. When dealing with dishonest associates or a criminal element, what motivates them to steal from the company? What rationalizations can you speak to when discussing the matter with them?

I learned that yelling gets you nowhere.

In my younger days I had quite a volatile temper. Over the years I have learned not only to control that temper, but that yelling or losing your temper really gets you nowhere with people. Children as well as adults never respond well to yelling. They respond much better to someone trying to understand and empathize with them.

In the closing session of the National Retail Federation conference in Minneapolis in 2006, David Zulawski of Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates Everything I Learned in Life I Learned from Coaching My 4-Year-Old’s Soccer Teamnoted that even individuals involved in organized retail crime responded better to interviewers who treated them with respect and dignity rather than yelling or threatening them.

I learned that every child wants to do well.

When I think back over my years in retail, I cannot think of one single individual who has failed in this profession who actually wanted to fail. I would say that individuals as a whole want to succeed. If members of a loss prevention team do not succeed, it is not for lack of wanting to, but rather a lack of understanding on either the associate’s or the manager’s part.

Some associates may not know how to do a task, or they think their way is better, or they think something else is more important. But they do not start a task with failure as their goal.

It is up to us to find out why people do not do what we expect of them.

I would highly recommend the book Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do and What to Do about It by Ferdinand F. Fournies. In his book, Fournies outlines 16 reasons why associates do not do what they are supposed to do. The majority of those reasons can be tied directly to the management style of their supervisor. If you are having difficulty with an individual, find out why he or she is not doing what you ask them to and react to the reason, not the individual.

I learned that water breaks and snacks are equally as important as playing the game.

There is nothing worse that you can do to a great employee than to burn them out. As Stephen F. Covey points out in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you must “sharpen the saw.” Working with a dull saw will significantly reduce your effectiveness in cutting down the tree. In other words, you must renew the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual pieces within yourself and your loss prevention team to be able to function at full capacity. Make sure your people do not get burned out. Encourage them to take full advantage of vacation time. Encourage them to work smarter Everything I Learned in Life I Learned from Coaching My 4-Year-Old’s Soccer Teamand not necessarily harder.

I learned that every child wants to please the coach and their parents.

Adults are no different. Use that to your advantage. Praise them when they deserve it. Use it to counsel them when they are not up to par. Remember that there may be someone else that they are trying to please and use that to motivate them.

I learned that silly little stickers and “You’ve Done Good” buttons go a long way.

Pens, $5 gift cards, koozies, a certificate for Inventory Shrink Improvement, a form letter with a personal hand-written note on the bottom—all of these items say, “Well done!” Store managers, LP field personnel, even district and regional sales managers, everyone loves to be recognized. It doesn’t always have to be something big. Sometimes a mere phone call to say, “Thanks for what you do” will pay big returns.

I learned that there are times you need to go in and pick them up and dust them off.

Equally as important: I learned that other times you have to let them pick themselves up and dust themselves off.

These two observations go hand in hand. I am not sure that there is any science to knowing when to pick them up and when to let them pick themselves up. Will helping them up become a crutch? Can they not get up without your assistance? Only the coach/loss prevention team manager will know.

I learned that competition is good. In every child there is a champion waiting to get out.

In loss prevention, I have found that contests and competitions are great ways to get your department to put forth extra effort. However, perhaps the greatest effort comes as it did on the soccer field, when the individual players spark a competition among themselves or with the other team without having some sort of organized contest from the coach.

I learned to celebrate successes and minimize mistakes.

Kids are hypersensitive when they make mistakes. A quick, “That’s okay. We’ll get it next time” goes a long way. Never point out their mistakes to others, and once they have done it correctly, praise them. Nothing pleases a child more than for you to point out what a good job they have done to their parents or one of their peers. Adults and our loss prevention team associates are no different.

I learned that anyone can change.

You wouldn’t think that in nine weeks you could change someone. Let me rephrase that. I don’t believe that you can change anyone in nine weeks.

Moreover, I don’t believe that someone can change unless they themselves want to change. However, a magical transformation happened in many of the boys. It was like a light turned on for them. They finally got it. They found out what it felt like to succeed. They found out what it was like to work hard and be rewarded. Most importantly, they were having fun. They really enjoyed what they were doing. This is the secret to motivating our loss prevention team investigators and agents. They need to have fun.

Now don’t assume that it will always turn out okay. One boy left the team mid-season because he was no longer having fun. He liked practice, but dreaded the games. Perhaps he will return some day, but for now, maybe he is happier not playing. The same applies to our associates. If they do not enjoy what they are doing, perhaps they should look for something else. After all, if you are spending 40 to 60 hours a week doing something you dislike, you will not be happy, and probably not as successful as you would be doing something you enjoy.

I experienced the miracle of believing in someone.

The loss prevention team is no different than a soccer team in many respects. Sometimes just the fact that an individual feels that someone believes in him and is counting on him will improve his performance. I have seen many cases where investigators who have been historically poor performers become some of the top producers in the department simply by assigning them a mentor. This mentor is someone who will work with them on a consistent basis, someone who will believe in them and support them.

I learned that there are times when you have to sit down in the middle of the field and play with dirt.

During the middle of one game, one little boy decided to sit himself down in the middle of the field, cross his arms and legs, pout, and play with dirt. At first I tried to go over and pick him up. As I lifted him up hoping he would get up and play, he just stayed in the same position—legs and arms crossed with a scowl on his face. I sat him back down facing in the direction of the play. We scored a goal. As the rest of the team passed by his location, I picked him up, still legs and arms crossed, and faced him the other direction so he could see what was happening. A few minutes later, he joined the rest of the team. Our loss prevention team associates sometimes act the same way. No one can force them to participate. They have to make that decision by themselves.

I learned that if handled properly, people will learn from their mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to deal with mistakes in a way that the individual can learn and grow from his mistakes. Have you ever heard someone say, “How could you have possibly done something like that?” That is not addressing the problem, merely punishing the individual. Sometimes the answer is a little harsh. Sometimes a player or loss prevention team associate needs to sit on the sidelines for a while, or be put on a probationary status. As long as the action is done with the purpose of them learning from their mistakes and improving future performance, this type of discipline will work. Punishment for punishment’s sake will never work.

I learned that if they do not know from the beginning which direction to take, people will not likely reach the goal.

One of the coaches on another team always tied a bright red “Elmo” to the center of the goal his team was to shoot at. It made sense to me. Each time my team lined up in centerfield for a kick-off, I would ask them, “Which goal is ours?” They would all point to the goal. Half the time they would point to the wrong goal on the first try. But usually on the second try, they all had it figured out. Our loss prevention team associates are no different. They need to have goals, and be constantly reminded as to what their goals are and how they are progressing toward those goals.

I learned that picking a good assistant coach and a team mom is probably the most important thing that you will do in preparing your team.

In my soccer team, the first thing I did was to pick an assistant coach and a team mom. Actually, I picked two assistant coaches. The first was a father of one of the boys who had grown up in Venezuela and who had an intimate knowledge of the sport. The other assistant was someone unexpected. He was the thirteen-year-old son of one of our friends. He had always been great with kids and had a true passion for playing soccer. Both choices were excellent. They complemented my strengths and made up for my weaknesses. The team mom was also great. She arranged for all of the social events, helped keep me organized, and coordinated all of the snacks and drinks for the games.

When I first started in loss prevention, I experienced a similar situation. I had more of a store operations background than LP, and though I was familiar with what LP did, I did not have a true understanding of what I needed to do to be successful. I was smart enough to know that I needed assistants to help me. That is true to this day. I have a director of LP who is a true team builder. She is a motivator and has an incredible knack for building a culture of loss prevention in the stores. My manager of corporate LP has an eye for detail. He keeps abreast of the latest developments in technology and best practices in the industry. Not one of us is the same. We have different and unique personalities, yet we function as a team, with the same goals and objectives in mind, each contributing in their own way.

Most importantly, I learned that before I can teach, coach, or counsel, I must first look deep within myself and look at my own weaknesses and seek to strengthen myself.

I still look at myself on a regular basis. I see my weaknesses as well as my strengths. I celebrate my victories and try to understand my failures. As my team-building skills improve, I am quick to realize that there are other coaches out there and other teams, new competition, and new challenges. I must keep improving my team and myself in order to be victorious.

Good luck with all of your teams.

This article was originally published in 2006 and was updated April 14, 2016. 

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