Building a successful career in loss prevention has always been predicated on the commitment to professional growth and development. Working in a business as dynamic as retail, it is essential that we remain flexible in our methods and progressive in our approach to a global retail market. As the business moves forward change comes quickly, and our skills and abilities must evolve to meet the needs and expectations of a new professional standard.
Networking is the process of establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with other professional people that share common interests. While such relationships often develop on an informal basis, they can be extremely valuable to your career in loss prevention. Developing a cooperative partnership with individuals serving other retailers, related professional organizations and vendors, local law enforcement agencies and other potential networking resources can go a long way to improve your skills and enhance your career options.
We have to be able to expand our knowledge and our attitudes beyond what we know and what we’re comfortable with. Those that aren’t capable of accomplishing that are never able to grow beyond where they are. Their occupation remains a job, and never develops into a career. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn; and the ability to draw from different programs allows us to expand our knowledge base, giving us an opportunity to make better and more informed decisions.
Networking can do much more than simply help you establish a list of professional contacts. Networking can help you learn more about your industry—the different programs, the different structures, and the variety of styles and approaches can all provide you with a different perspective on loss prevention as a profession; challenging your thought processes and ideologies as well.
Who has a “best in class” loss prevention department? Who do your superiors admire in the industry? What makes them successful? How do they measure success? How do they achieve those results? What does there department do differently than your department does? What is their reputation? These are all questions that can be answered simply by interacting with others in the industry, and they can help mold you and your skill sets as you continue down the path of professional development.
There are different types of networks, and different ways of developing a networking strategy. We have individual contacts; people that we know and/or have otherwise interacted with to build an acquaintance. We have organizational contacts; groups or other companies that share common interests, information and/or relationships. We also have community networks; groups that come together to accomplish specific goals, such as task forces or retail associations.
Many of these different networking opportunities typically exist within our own communities. For example, many retailers in a specific geographic area (whether inside an individual mall, city, etc.) might form an alliance that shares information on specific losses, types of losses, incidents, or suspects to anyone that belongs to that association. Such alliances might also involve local law enforcement. It is not uncommon for retailers to form a taskforce with local law enforcement that seeks out specific suspects or types of loss (organized retail crime, for example). Networking may start by simply making plans to have lunch with a loss prevention manager or team member from a different retailer down the street, or at the other end of the mall.
Building Our Professional Network
From one perspective, there are certain traits commonly held by members of the loss prevention community that can hinder our ability to network. We are typically suspicious and skeptical by nature. At times, our commitment to discretion, confidentiality and information control can limit the depth of our interactions. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, which is a natural side affect considering the nature of our profession.
On the other hand, there are traits that are part of a career in loss prevention that can make us good networkers. We’re typically strong with details, decision making and problem solving. We become experts on gathering information and mastering the tools that can help us find the answers that we need. We are self-confident and good listeners. What we therefore need to do is to find a strategy that works best for us based on our personalities and our specific abilities. The following suggestions can help to enhance your networking efforts:
- Join and participate in one or more loss prevention industry trade groups. Keep up with current communications and events (several have regular email communications on industry news). Consider volunteering in group committees and attend events when possible.
- Stay on top of current industry news and topics. Subscribe to one or more of the industry magazines. Bookmark important loss prevention websites, especially those that share information, hold forums and encourage your participation.
- Walk before you run. Take small steps and build momentum at your own pace. Focus on building positive relationships rather than setting agendas. Show interest in others rather than focusing on you. Learn more about those you’re meeting. Ask questions, and be genuine. The best way to make a friend is to be one.
- First impressions are important, so prepare yourself beforehand. Write a brief summary of what you want people to know about you—who you are, what you do, and what you’re about—and then practice. Keep in mind that practice is about comfort and confidence, not about sounding rehearsed. Maintain eye contact.
- The way that we present ourselves is an important aspect of first impressions. Whether the function is a formal event or an informal get-together, dress appropriately. Clothing should be clean, neat, and pressed. Shoes clean and/or polished. We should be well-groomed and well-kept. Certainly, the situation, the setting and common sense should set the tone, but don’t miss the details.
- Don’t underestimate the power of listening. Be an active listener, and let them know that you are paying attention. Listening is just as important as talking when it comes to building strong relationships, and asking a question is a great way to initiate a conversation. People will be much more interested in learning what you know once they realize how much you care.
- Show confidence and get the competitive juices flowing. There are those out there who aren’t as qualified, effective, talented, capable, or pleasant as you are but get ahead because they make themselves known and connect with others. We have to be willing to make the impression.
- Start with people that you know. It’s much easier to strike conversations with those that you know (friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, etc.) that can help stir confidence and encouragement before venturing into new and uncharted territory.
- Demonstrating leadership and getting involved is a great way to connect with people. Make the most out of what you know and take initiative. What you know can still lead to who you know.
- Be smart. Approach every conversation with an open mind. Don’t be a selfish conversationalist. Don’t dominate a conversation. Share information. Don’t abuse relationships. Ask how you can be of assistance to them. Networking is a two-way street.
- Don’t monopolize a contact. Make sure that you take every opportunity to get to know others as well and make the best use of your networking opportunities.
- Get out among them and make it happen. Be positive, and just do it. Make it worthwhile and find value in your networking conversations. The proper mindset can make all of the difference.
- Follow through and follow up. Take steps to maintain your network. Hand out business cards. Collect business cards. Send follow-up emails when appropriate. Send helpful information. Send a “thank you” note. Pick up the phone. Take the necessary steps to cultivate the relationship.
Generally speaking people like to meet and help others, especially when they have a common interest. We like to talk about our jobs and our profession. We like learning new things, and sharing thoughts and ideas. We understand the importance of the mutual gains that we receive through the sharing of information. We also like to be asked for advice and counsel as well as receiving it. It is a necessary and vital aspect of our career in loss prevention.
Networking is a critical element of career development. It doesn’t necessarily have to lead you out of your current company, and it’s by no means an indicator that you’re looking to leave. Networking should be viewed, and pursued, as a means to open communication. It’s a portal to share information and resources. Certainly, we have to be smart in our interactions. But information and perspective leads to personal and professional growth. The more we learn, the better that we’re going to be.
Networking can put you into contact with individuals that you may have never met otherwise. It can help you learn more about the loss prevention profession, and the different types of positions within the industry. It can help to develop relationships that can flourish for years to come, providing a variety of benefits over the course of a career.
By capitalizing on opportunities to enhance our knowledge and education, we are making an investment in our own future. To learn more about using networking to build a successful career in loss prevention, professional training and development, and the certification process, visit losspreventionfoundation.org.