What does it take to build a successful loss prevention program? Not surprisingly, that loaded question can be answered in a number of ways. We can focus on the methods and strategies necessary to drive success. We can stress philosophies and cultures, finding the right formula to meet the dynamic needs of the particular organization. We can talk about the tools and gadgets that help us get the job done, from simple widgets to highly sophisticated technologies. There are countless directions we could take this conversation. But what truly matters—the overriding factor that ultimately determines the fate of the program—is people.
Talented people make all the difference. Finding the right balance of talented individuals at every level of the department builds the foundation, sets the tone, and executes the message. To optimize the productivity and potential of our workforce, we must take the necessary steps to make sound, intelligent, and well-informed decisions regarding our hiring processes, invest in strategies that capitalize on the strengths and abilities of our team, focus on efforts to further develop those talents and abilities, and commit to a realistic approach for maintaining the ongoing investment through opportunity, advancement, and retention.
This has never been truer than it is today. As part of a recent LPM survey, we asked loss prevention leaders whether they felt the overall responsibilities of loss prevention professionals will show significant changes over the next five to ten years, and the results were very revealing (graph 1). Respondents at every level of leadership overwhelmingly indicated that they believe there will be significant changes that will impact the industry with more than 98 percent in agreement.
However, when asked whether LP practitioners are legitimately prepared for the changes that will take place in the near term, the responses were much less encouraging (graph 2). As a whole, most LP professionals tend to fall somewhere in the middle, with those that agree (37 percent) very similar to those that disagree (38 percent). Once again, these results were consistent across all levels of leadership. This only further underscores the need to hire, develop, and secure talented individuals throughout all levels of the department to strengthen our teams and better prepare us for the challenges that lie ahead. As one loss prevention leader said, “We are in an era of unprecedented change in the industry. I think the up-and-coming generation is more easily adaptable to the changes. The biggest concern, in my opinion, is how businesses look to loss prevention teams differently than they have in the past.”
Investing in talent, therefore, must be seen as an ongoing process rather than a singular transaction. Talent development is as important, if not more important, than talent acquisition, all of which starts with a plan and an attitude. Foundationally, it begins with knowing how to hire as well as whom to hire.
Understanding How to Hire Talent
The success of any department hinges on making the right hiring decisions, and that process starts with the hiring manager. First and foremost, it begins with understanding exactly what talent is—and the difference between talent and skill.
Talent is more accurately defined as the natural ability of a person to do something special or remarkable. It is typically viewed as something that someone is naturally good at. On the other hand, skill is an ability that a person acquires through practice and training. It is often viewed as a proficiency that a person has learned over time. Both talent and skills are extremely important to identify in a potential candidate, but they are not the same thing. The primary difference is how they are applied to an individual’s life.
Looking at the difference in practical terms, skills are something that can typically be easily identified based on an individual’s resume. Examining the things they’ve done and accomplished, the experiences they’ve had, their education and training, and their proficiency with certain tasks all point to an individual’s skill level. They quantify past performance learned through life lessons and evaluated based on our accomplishments. Quantifying skills on a résumé is where most of us start, but it can’t be where the process ends.
Identifying talent requires a deeper look. Learning to recognize characteristics such as creativity, decision‑making, adaptability, reasoning, insightfulness, communication skills, patience, humility, and perseverance, just to name a few, must become a vital part of the interview process. Looking for individuals capable of building off their talents while expanding and fine-tuning their skills should be our objective during the interview. These are things that propel both the individual and the team to a different level and will ultimately define the success of your program. One vice president of LP highlighted this point when he wrote, “Having an open mind and a willingness to learn is extremely important to our profession. Loss prevention is very organic at its core and has a lot of moving parts that require the ability to adapt quickly.”
Always keep in mind that the idea of hiring talent isn’t enough—it must be something that you can identify and explore. Self-preparation is an essential part of the hiring process for the interviewer as well as the candidate and can be critical in helping to select the best candidate. Knowing what questions to ask—and being able to follow-up based on the answers provided—will set the tone. Enhancing these skills can have a profound impact on your talents as a leader, the overall effectiveness of your department in general, and your success as a whole.
As a simple example, if hiring a piano player, two people may list on a résumé that they’re skilled at playing the piano and have had lessons for twenty years. But if one can play Mozart and the other can only play Chopsticks, might that be something important to know? What if one prefers Beethoven and the other will only play Billy Joel? Asking probing, open-ended questions that get to the “what,” “how,” and “why” will provide answers that reveal the core of the individual and help you make the best hiring decisions.
Being able to identify talent is certainly a valuable skill, but it does very little good if you are unable to bring that talent to the table. Have you ever had a candidate that you thought was perfect for the position, but were unable to convince them to take the job? Have you ever had a candidate accept a counteroffer and decide to stay with their current employer?
No interview is one-sided. When interviewing a candidate, you are ultimately determining their overall ability to fit the job and the program. You look at the different qualities of the person, evaluate the skills and abilities they offer, and couple that with factors both tangible (such as salary) and intangible (such as potential) to reach a hiring decision. But the candidate is also making an evaluation of your company as a whole—and you as a potential supervisor—to determine whether your program offers the right match for them.
The best candidates typically have options. They are not simply looking for another job—they are looking for an opportunity to move forward in their career. They want a company that they can grow with and a program that offers advancement potential. They want to work with others who share common goals and interests. They want to work for supervisors whom they respect—and who respect them. They want to work for an organization that is financially stable, yet operationally flexible and open-minded.
As the hiring manager, it is up to you to communicate those attributes to your potential candidates. Instead of simply thinking, “They need to convince me that they’re worth hiring,” it’s just as important to consider, “I need to convince them that we’re a company and a program that they will want to work for.”
All of us understand that we should hire individuals who want to work for our company and show their passion and enthusiasm for the position. But it is just as important that you communicate the desire to have them as part of the team while expressing your passion and enthusiasm for the department, the program, and the company.
Keep the perspective of the candidate in mind. By changing jobs, they are making a potentially life-changing decision, and they want to be sure that they are making the right move. When you’re good at your job, comfortable in your position, and successful in your field (as most of the best candidates are), you are looking for the right motivation to leave your current position and join another company.
It’s up to the interviewer to provide them with that motivation. Show them the type of leader you are, the quality of the program and the company that they will be joining, the character of your team, and the potential that it all holds in building their career. This helps set the right tone for the candidates that you ultimately hire and will also help those candidates make a smooth and productive transition.
Retail is a dynamic business that must feed on the changing needs of the consumer in order to survive. Similarly, the evolution of a successful and productive LP program is largely dependent on the ability to react and respond to change—and that begins with people. We must be able to adapt to the needs of the business, but every member of the team also has personal and professional agendas that will impact their performance, their outlook, and their potential. Stability is extremely important, but that must be coupled with the opportunity for professional growth and development.
Leaders must recognize that the best team members don’t want to become stagnant or irrelevant. They want to move forward in their careers and take the steps necessary to reach the next level. The development of knowledge and understanding and the practical application of skills and abilities help groom the team for what lies ahead.
Everyone is responsible for taking charge of their own career. No one can expect someone else to do it for them. Opportunity is the result of effort. There is a personal obligation to put together our own career map that determines where and how far our career will take us, what direction we will follow, and what the final destination might be. And while they may provide guidance and support, it is not the responsibility of a company, a supervisor, or anyone else to do it for us. As stated by one director of loss prevention, “From my experience, loss prevention is a career path in which you have to be highly self-motivated. Those who are always waiting to be told what to do or what to change tend to get left behind. Those who further their own growth and knowledge without being told are the ones who thrive in this business.”
The role of leadership has never been to draw the map, but rather to guide the way, providing the compass that leads the team in the right direction. As a result, effective development plans must prepare and elicit success for the individual in their current role while drawing on the individual’s potential, whatever that might be. Different companies may offer a wide spectrum of opportunities, but most will typically include methods and programs such as the following.
Coaching. Assessing and improving the performance of an individual or a team through goal setting, encouragement, motivation, and one-on-one dialogue is the process of coaching. Typically, the focus is to influence others to think for themselves, providing insights and offering suggestions that help explore options, problems, situations, and solutions that lead the individual to reach their own conclusions.
Mentoring. Guidance and support of individuals is the object of mentoring. Focusing on the relationships, commitments, and resources that can help build success, mentoring provides a means to help understand how ambitions and abilities fit into career choices. Mentors typically have direct and relevant experience that can help in development and are willing to offer suggestions and advice that encourages career growth.
Goal Setting. The process of establishing specific, measurable, and time-targeted objectives is important. To be most effective, this should be an ongoing and active process that is continuously evolving, with goals that are tangible and realistic. They should be measurable so that progress can be clearly assessed. Accomplishment should require effort and action, crafted to the specific needs and abilities of the individual, progressive in nature and practice, and focused on positive career management.
Education. The development, implementation, and delivery of needed training and education should address strengths and opportunities—the needs, motivations, desires, skills, and thought processes that can assist the individual in making real and lasting modifications to their career choices. This can include opportunities or development in other areas of the business or specific training and educational courses that help team members build and develop career skills.
Evaluation. Ongoing performance evaluations are intended to assess and document an employee’s performance, behaviors, and skills while reviewing the milestones achieved or opportunities missed. This process is a critical aspect of improving employee productivity, development, and morale while delivering a message that is both straightforward and constructive. A well-conceived evaluation is not merely an appraisal of the employee’s past and current performance, it is a means to enhance future performance and provide feedback that can be the foundation of an employee’s overall career plan.
Retaining Talented Employees
Demonstrating to employees that they are valued and what they do matters is a key factor in retaining talented individuals while strengthening the overall performance of the team. The best employees want to know that their company and their leadership support their ongoing growth and development. However, as part of our recent survey, there appears to be some room for improvement (graph 3).
While loss prevention professionals at all levels of leadership did reveal a slightly positive response in how they rank their company with respect to developing talent for leadership roles, respondents averaged a 6.5 out of 10 overall ranking. The top levels of leadership had a slightly higher ranking, averaging a 6.97 out of 10, while LP managers had the lowest average ranking at 6.06 out of 10. As shown, these numbers were fairly consistent across all levels, with every level of leadership falling between 6 and 7 out of 10.
Continuing Education. With the size of many LP departments diminishing and responsibilities continuing to increase and expand, today’s best professionals understand the importance of continuing training and education. They realize that relevance comes from continuous growth and development and want to know that their companies and their leadership support them in those efforts. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. As one respondent noted, “There’s very little to no direction or even guidance provided to me. I feel like I’m the captain of this ship and it’s up to me to set goals and plan projects for the whole department, and I’m a mid-level manager. I’ve never been encouraged to pursue further education or professional development.”
Whether real or perceived, this is a genuine area of opportunity for leadership. Finding creative ways to keep up-and-coming talent involved and engaged in training and educational opportunities should be an ongoing mission that is both supported and emphasized with the team.
Regional Conferences. Budgets may be a concern, but that does not imply that they are a roadblock. For example, professionals at all levels of leadership tend to agree that two or three regional loss prevention conferences per year designed for up-and-coming professionals would be a valuable, effective, and worthwhile way to develop talent. Overall, 79 percent of those participating in the survey agreed (graph 4).
Considering the many advancements in video technology, there are also many virtual options available to today’s professionals that allow for both networking and educational purposes, many provided at minimal or no cost. Regional training and educational opportunities are also plentiful, especially considering the ORCA events and other resources available at a regional level. These events provide significant opportunities for growth and development at every level of leadership.
Certifications. Education itself is something that must be looked at in different ways. While the prospects of looking at educational and training programs will draw ongoing interest from talented individuals on the team, seeking out and making our talented team members more aware of valued programs outside of the scope of internal programs and the growth and development that can be available as a result also demonstrates our desire to help them progress in their careers.
For example, in a recent LPM survey, we looked at the primary reasons why industry professionals chose not to pursue completing one of the industry certifications (graph 5). While the primary reason provided by corporate leadership involved the time commitment necessary to complete the courses, the top reason offered by field leadership at every level was the cost associated with the courses.
Many companies currently provide resources to help their team members complete various certifications. This may be provided directly through the LP department or by working with the human resources department to help pay for these college‑accredited courses. However, if a LP program doesn’t currently offer that option, that should in no way exclude company leadership from making their talented team members more aware of alternate options.
Many industry solution providers generously support the industry through certification scholarship opportunities. Simply keeping our team members more aware of the options at their disposal expresses to the team our interest in helping them take their careers to the next level. The opportunities that our companies provide is extremely important. But a willingness to take the extra step to help our team members move forward in their careers will be both valued and appreciated by the talent on our team.
Talented team members want to know that they are valued, respected, and appreciated. They want to know that they are building a career—not simply fulfilling the needs of a job. They want to know that they are working for companies and leaders who share those same ideals. Leadership commitment to those fundamental needs will always help keep talent in the room.
An important aspect of investing in talent is the inevitable realization that the most talented individuals will always be pursued and are likely to continue to look for new opportunities to grow and develop. Forward-thinking leaders understand this. And even when developing plans to retain our top talent is a priority, there will be times when that talent looks to seek greener pastures. This makes succession planning an important aspect of any successful program.
Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing key employees to develop a “bench” of key players that you can move up, move on, or move over. It is designed to help prepare people to meet the company’s needs for talent over time. Through the succession planning process, top performers are identified based on their perceived growth potential. We then establish a means to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities while preparing them for advancement into increasingly challenging roles. Succession planning isn’t raising a white flag. On the contrary, it shows an ongoing commitment to the growth and development of the entire team. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Succession planning should focus on developing people rather than simply naming them as replacements when openings occur. When a vacancy occurs, the goal should be that the organization will have qualified internal candidates to consider for promotion. A well-designed succession plan outlines a process to be followed if a crucial employee needs to be replaced. Key elements of a succession plan might include the following criteria.
Forecast Growth and Turnover. Are there open channels of communication that can help anticipate needs? Is there a clear understanding of preferences and expectations? Have we prioritized potential needs? What skills and abilities are most necessary for success in a given role or position? Do we have individual development plans for our associates? Is there a means to hold management accountable for cultivating talent?
Recognize the Need to Plan. Focus on building a foundation that supports where the company is going, how we will get there, and finding the best way to make the journey. Plans should always align with corporate values and strategy, identifying key competencies, leadership criteria, and developmental approaches that assess the strengths, weaknesses, and succession readiness of our high potential associates.
Identify Key Positions. Depth charts should be identified for key positions to help ascertain the company’s bench strength—or weakness—at each position. Factors that may come into play include the company and their approach to the business, the goals and objectives of the current leadership, real and perceived growth opportunities, and the structure and composition of the loss prevention department.
Continued Assessment. As the needs of the business grow and develop, succession plans must evolve as well. The LP industry and retail business are in a constant state of change. As new skills are developed and new roles are defined, opportunities must be assessed and redefined as well to keep the plan efficient and effective.
Encourage Opportunity. Effective leaders open doors for their team members—they don’t fight to keep them caged. If a member of your team has the ability to take your place, you should help get them there. If their interests and passions fall in some other aspect of the business, you should help them fulfill that desire as well. If their abilities and aspirations are otherwise limited, that’s fine too. If the steps are taken to help each team member reach their fullest potential, they will likely remain an effective part of the team.
Commitment Makes All the Difference
Talented leaders understand the impact that talented performers will have on their program and embrace every opportunity to take that performance to another level. Identifying talent is never enough. It takes an ongoing commitment to keep that talent dedicated, engaged, motivated, and content. Considering the growing demands of the business and the evolving needs of successful loss prevention programs, this should be more than a strategy—it must be an expectation.