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Retail Loss Prevention Leadership Lessons from the Pandemic

A retail loss prevention team that willingly accepts new challenges is critical—a point driven home by the pandemic’s thrusting of loss prevention organizations into uncharted areas of the business. Creating a team with a “we can take on anything” mindset is easier when all employees think of themselves as a “leader.” Here are seven ideas from management experts to create the agile retail loss prevention department that your organization needs.

One common experience among LP leaders and teams since the pandemic struck, has been a diversification in job responsibilities. For many, our performance has been judged by how effective we’ve been at managing things we’ve never managed before. Situated as we are—as a critical conduit between management and store teams—it’s natural for retail organizations to lean on LP and asset protection teams to fill functions that suddenly need filling—even ones only tangentially related to the traditional mission of retail loss prevention.

Nick Smith
Nick Smith

“The pandemic is not just one challenge, it has really thrown a huge array of different challenges at us—our roles changed quickly and dramatically overnight,” shared Nick Smith, group loss prevention manager at Chemist Warehouse Retail Group in Australia, in a Retales podcast, “Evolution of the loss prevention role.” More than a year in, Smith says retail loss prevention now owns aspects of those functions that arose from nowhere, with dynamism, adaptability, and versatility vital legacies of the crisis.

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It highlights one critical skill—on an extremely long list—of what it takes to be a successful LP leader: the ability to lead teams that willingly accept change and respond effectively to it.

Michael Useem
Michael Useem

This mandate is far easier when department employees at all levels see themselves as “leaders,” according to Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at Wharton. For retail loss prevention executives, then, the path to an agile and better performing department is paved by demanding and measuring leadership performance at every level within the security organization.

Useem believes that everybody should be good at leading, regardless of their level in the organizational hierarchy. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the front line or the top line,” according to Useem. When employees see themselves as leaders, they look for opportunities to go beyond their existing powers and excite and motivate others. This is precisely the attitude that allow LP teams to react nimbly to change and to embrace new responsibilities and challenges retail organizations give to us.

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7 Suggestions for Retail Loss Prevention Management

To get there, management experts from The Wharton Center, McKinsey, and elsewhere say that it often requires shaping new employee attitudes and fostering a change of culture within a department. It means taking aim at a new vision, one in which…

  1. Everyone from line officers, investigators, analysts, supervisors, and managers view themselves as the “CEO” of their function. For example, a store’s LP associate who recommends a way to alter pedestrian traffic to provide greater separation between BOPIS customers and vehicles is demonstrating leadership in the same way as a CEO who is launching an initiative to transform a corporation. The scope may be different, but the skill set of leadership is the same from a senior executive to a retail loss prevention store associate—the ability to ideate, communicate, and execute.
  2. Helen Handfield-Jones
    Helen Handfield-Jones

    Every LP employee thinks daily about “making the world a better place.” It helps when individuals apply this easy-to-remember idea to their work situations because “it forces them to have a vision of how their unit, or they as an individual, can be more effective and creative, go beyond day-to-day requirements, and energize others around that vision,” according to Helen Handfield-Jones, an independent consultant on leadership talent strategy and co-author of the book, The War for Talent. Leadership is not a matter of how many subordinates one has, but it is “a calling to help the organization go in the right direction, which means leading up,” said Wharton’s Useem.

  3. The prevailing perception is that leaders are made—not born. Yes, some individuals possess skills that give them a head start, but any retail loss prevention team member can lead in their function if the department provides opportunities for them to do so. Here are some ideas: Encourage LP staff to pursue continuing security education or certification; provide mentoring opportunities within the department; and reward staff who step out of their comfort zone and take on new challenges and tasks. LP leaders don’t have to implement every suggestion, but they must never flatly disregard an effort by a team member who suggests “a better way” of doing something.
  4. “Horizontal” leadership is a consideration in performance reviews. Leadership in lower ranks can involve everything from prioritizing tasks to managing time to resolving conflicts. It’s important to view these actions as performance measures alongside the more “do they do their job” type measures, say leadership experts. It is these small efforts to strive for better performance that help retail loss prevention departments and organizations achieve excellence.
  5. You fight resistance. Several change management experts note that individuals who occupy the middle or lower levels of an organization sometimes resist, or even resent, a leadership role. Middle managers may be unwilling to act as leaders in fostering change and even thwart it because of inertia and a stubborn unwillingness to think and act in different ways. These people expect pay for “doing their job” and believe leadership is why executives get the big paycheck. An LP leader should insist that all department staff view leadership as a part of their job and that those who resist either raise their performance or move on. A few security supervisors can spoil the entire culture of team leadership, warns guidance from The Wharton Center.
  6. You don’t intervene too early in people’s struggles. Instilling a sense of leadership in others requires giving others a sense of responsibility. When higher level managers are always quick to intervene, they take responsibility for the result and thwart individuals trying to assume a leadership attitude.
  7. You don’t answer everyone’s questions. A retail loss prevention leader should resist always relying on his or her own experience and expertise in meeting new challenges. Creating a climate of “the boss always knows best” can kill creativity and leadership development.

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