With limited resources necessitating efficiency and cost effectiveness, but standards still requiring responsiveness to customer needs, managers are asking questions about the best ways to achieve their goals in the loss prevention arena. New approaches such as systems-wide efforts or working as collaborative partners in order to identify new problems and solutions are becoming more commonplace. But loss prevention management faces some interesting challenges. While partnerships and collaborations can break traditional boundaries by sharing information, resources, and best practices, they can also create greater opportunities for all and reach goals that could not have been achieved alone.
This article begins with a loss prevention management scenario and then proposes that a collaborative approach be considered as a solution. The “when” and “why” to partnering or collaborating is explored, along with strategies for setting the stage for collaboration, and challenges and barriers to collaborative efforts. Finally, tips are provided on how to overcome these barriers.
A Loss Prevention Scenario
The loss prevention department of XYZ Corporation is faced with unprecedented inventory shortages during the past year. An anti-shoplifting campaign has been in place for several years, but the results are ineffective. Sales associate selling floor coverage has been reduced due to budget adjustments. An investment in technology is adequate in scope, but merchandise is still moving out the front and back doors at a rapid rate. Loss prevention management has made noble efforts to get a handle on the situation, but the losses continue.
On top of this typical situation, recent publicity covered an incident where employees of a major store exercised their belief that merchandise was imminently walking out the front door. In their zealousness, they accosted the offending parties in the parking lot. Net result, they lost their jobs because they had violated store policy.
The Dilemma. This action presents a dilemma for loss prevention management. Gaining the trust of all employees in a given organization is a major job. Convincing them that retail shortages are curtailing profitability of the company they work for is a challenge in itself. Not all employees have the personal interest or conviction that they should even be concerned about inventory shrinkage, no matter what the employee manual indicates. Add to this suspicion that some have lost their jobs due to a policy of no engagement with a thief or shoplifter once they leave the store, and the efforts of the loss prevention function are negated.
The Question to Consider. Does this scenario eliminate any need to have a collaborative effort among employees, suppliers, loss prevention staff, human resources, legal department, local law enforcement, and the customers of this retail company? Not at all. The efforts must be doubled if the mission of protecting company assets is to remain a priority. All participants of this shared mission must share this message of asset protection.
A Collaborative Model of Operation
Collaboration makes sense when there is a desire to work together and a strong commitment to solving a specific, yet common problem. Collaborating partners in a loss prevention initiative may include local police departments and criminal justice professionals, retail management, and other organizations dedicated to crime prevention.
Collaborative efforts can improve effectiveness by eliminating the duplication of efforts and providing a more efficient use of time, talents, services, and resources. As a result of a successful loss prevention management collaborative effort, more effective policies and procedures can be put into place, staff training efforts can be coordinated, and all stakeholders involved can be working toward the same loss prevention goals. In addition, as a result of collaborating, each department or organization is able to respond with newly developed expertise.
Setting the Stage for Collaboration
Gaining leadership support is important when setting the stage for a potential collaborative project. Frank discussions about the purpose of the collaboration, why the effort is important, what the collaboration expects to achieve, and how it fits into the organization’s mission is essential when discussing a potential project with your organization’s decision makers. These decision makers include not only top loss prevention management, but the human resource function, the legal department, and the public relations department as well. Focusing on results is a total effort, and it must gain the support of all of these functions before any type of collaborative effort can be entertained.
While leadership support is obtained, strategic outlook, ongoing planning with research, and idea exploration needs to take place. This means looking at trends nationally and needs locally. Identifying problems, coming up with common goals, and looking for partners with similar goals is a great starting point.
The development of an infrastructure for a collaborative effort includes determining the key partners for the collaboration, getting the partners together to agree on the problem and goals for the project, looking at different ways that each partner can contribute, and exploring funding for the effort. Networking, listening to the needs of others, encouraging participation from a wide range of stakeholders, and thinking outside the box will also help set the stage. In addition, specific barriers or challenges to the collaboration need to be identified and explored in the planning phase.
Barriers to Working as a Team
Barriers are just what they infer. They could be…
• Physical space barriers that wall off one function from another.
• The separation of professional and specialist staff from the operating staff.
• In the way a job description is written.
• The lack of trust between people responsible to achieve organizational objectives.
• The lack of information sharing out of fear or intimidation from superiors or peers in the department.
• The lack of subject knowledge about the product or service being offered to customers or clients.
• That the mission and goals of the organization are never discussed with staff both old and new.
• That the management leadership qualities in the organization are insufficient.
• A myriad of things getting in the way of collaborative efforts that can result in the formation of individual, as well as departmental and divisional “silos” in our organization.
Beware of the Silo Organization
When working toward partnering and collaboration objectives, we may discover that there are barriers all around us getting in the way of our ability to be an effective loss prevention executive, manager, project coordinator, or inter-agency collaborating partner. The silo organization is one of them.
The silo mentality can be defined as a strong organizational culture of protectionism, a desire to maintain the status quo with the attitude of “we have always done it this way.”
Loss prevention as an industry has gradually changed from that stand-alone, protect-at-any-cost position to one that is more inclusive, but it has just scratched the surface as to being more collaborative in its tone when dealing with other functions.
Turf issues are common in a silo organization and can greatly affect the ability to collaborate both within our own organization as well as on a collaborative partnership effort that we are attempting to structure.
As noted, there are many reasons for the creation of barriers, but the most important point to understand is the fact that internal and external barriers do create silos, and the silo mentality can destroy the mission of any organization as well as its collaborative efforts. In fact, in the traditional organization, the professional role may have centered on its specific knowledge and skill sets, and not necessarily on the stated overall mission and objectives of the organization.
This uniquely stilted focus has tended to dominate the professional organization’s decision-making processes, often at the expense of the organization itself. This widespread condition continues to exist today in professional organizations, government, as well as the retail industry and can affect how individual partners in a collaborative effort function within their team.
With this silo structure as a challenge to effective communication within our organization, as well as with those outside our agency, we must find ways to shift away from this potentially self-destroying practice while still achieving our mission and goals. We know that we can’t change the silo mentality overnight, so we must continue to learn to work as a collaborative team within the silo organization.
Starting with a frank discussion on the roles and responsibilities of loss prevention management professionals is an important first step. There may be misconceptions or unrealistic expectations about what can and cannot be accomplished by a specific partner or agency in a collaborative effort.
The cornerstone of information sharing is trust. Building trust involves a person or organization showing that they are predictable, reliable, and responsible to do what they say they are going to do. A non-threatening environment to share ideas without retribution also helps to build trust. Frequent and open communication, a willingness to share information, as well as to contribute equally toward the goals of the project also help build trust between collaborating partners.
Successful information sharing may require a major cultural shift within an organization as well as within a collaborative effort. Developing a communication strategy using technology as an aid, such as listservs, e-groups, and e-newsletters, and benchmarking successful ideas are all ways that information sharing can be increased.
An information-sharing environment should be encouraged through leadership support and modeling. Having decision-making protocols, working through conflict, giving credit where credit is due, and being accountable to the partnership are other ways to prevent as well as overcome barriers to collaborative efforts. Additionally, in order to break down the silo mentality barrier, the same principles of building trust and increasing information sharing apply
While collaborations and partnerships can be a challenge with many barriers to overcome, we know that we can’t change each and every obstacle overnight. Our job is to work as a blended team that maneuvers through those barriers placed in our path. We know that doing it alone is frequently not an option to address the complex problems that we face today. Even though there is no single approach to a successful collaboration, collaborative efforts can go a long way toward achieving goals that result in the establishment or enhancement of programs or services and the development of new problem-solving approaches.
Finally, collaborations can create greater opportunities for all, but it is important to remember that it is not always a matter of what’s in it for us, but rather what is the right thing to do for the customers we serve.
Partnering and Collaborating within the Loss Prevention Management Community
The following list provides a sampling of barriers and a few tips on how to overcome them.
Lack of Resources (Internal or External). Assuming that you have sufficient resources for your collaborative project, make sure that you have the capacity to implement the project both in human resources and technology. Resources may also include local, state, federal, or private funding sources.
Limited Experiences with Collaboration. By “educating” as many functions as possible within the LP community as to the value of collaborating and partnering as a team, you will be able to share information and therefore maximize your team’s effectiveness.
Lack of Role Clarity (Internal or External). Once you are appointed to participate or to lead in a collaborative effort representing your company or community agency, make sure that you understand the magnitude of your project and that you are supported by your superior before you accept the responsibility.
Uncertainty about Whom to Partner or Collaborate with, or the Benefits of the Potential Collaborative Effort. Get to know your in-house neighbors as well as the various community stakeholders who might be involved in a similar collaborative effort. Reach out to understand their particular role or responsibility in the organization so that you might be able to partner and collaborate with them in the near and far term.
Power Differences between Partners. Understand the hierarchy of the various external stakeholders that you may be partnering with versus your own organization. Also understand that in the outside partnering project, each agency, including yours, is considered equal in the decision-making process.
Fear of Compromising the Mission of Your Organization. Know and understand your organization’s mission and objectives versus those of the external team players.
Lack of Leadership Support. Make sure that your peers and immediate supervision are always brought up to speed as to developing national and local trends that may affect the collaborative project you have undertaken.
Lack of Information Sharing and/or Poor Or Strained Communication. One of the most difficult challenges in overcoming barriers to collaboration is to convince individuals on the loss prevention external team as well as those within your organization to share information. The silo mentality is one that refuses to share information for the good of the organization or project. As a loss prevention leader, you must devise ways to bring individuals to believe in the team concept.
Geographic, Confidentiality, and Security Issues. Always remember: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Although this phrase is humorous, it makes good sense to abide by its inference. Know that the loss prevention team’s activity has a specific purpose for its existence; respect its privacy issues and the confidentiality of sensitive information.
Different Levels of Commitment. Each partner involved in your project will come to the table with various levels of commitment. As a collaborative team member or leader, respecting these variances will eventually result in a dedicated member.
The Structure and Culture of the Organization. From an internal perspective, to enforce the concept of collaborative teams or partnering within your organization, impress your HR director to consider using the following terminology in all job descriptions:
• Collaborates with peers as to team projects both internal and external
• Participates in information-sharing activities, such as communities of practice or cross-functional teams
• Don’t play small ball
Remain convinced that to succeed in a highly competitive world, the team concept is better able to partner and to lead in all sorts of collaborative goals of the organization. Be aware that by undertaking a collaborative project, the first order of business should be to develop a sense of rapport with each member of the team. This personal effort over time should help to establish an aura of trust and reliability among loss prevention team members.
In the loss prevention field, protecting company assets through better inventory control practices or having an acute awareness of internal and external theft opportunities is a challenge in itself, but to convince all parties, both customer and employee, that this objective is critical for each organization’s survival is an additional call for understanding human behavior.
Including a collaborative approach to any loss prevention effort will greatly enhance its chances for success. Remember that the loss prevention objective is to prevent loss, which requires a collaborative effort of every function in the loss prevention mosaic of responsibilities to find a better path to resolving problems.
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The following reference materials were helpful in this discussion.
Handy, C. (1995). Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mintzberg, H. (1998). Learning Theory in the Practice of Management Development: Evolution and Application. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, 105.
Rasnow, T. (2005). “Developing and Maintaining Court/Community Partnerships to Better Serve the Pro Se Litigant.” Electronically accessed on April 14, 2009 from www.selfhelpsupport.org
This article was originally published in 2009 and was updated August 30, 2016.