Creating a Supply Chain Program from the Ground Floor

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in the field of LP for twenty-five years. To put things into perspective, I started doing this line of work almost a decade before the first iPhone was introduced to the world. To some of the readers just starting their careers, that may seem ancient, and you would be correct in that assertion. As my career progressed, I have been very fortunate, either through dumb luck, opportunity, or a combination of those factors, to take part in building LP programs from the ground floor. The irony is that I am still at it, now for the fourth time. Surprisingly, as challenging as it is, having a proven blueprint to work from makes each build a little easier.

Before I dive into the details of this long journey, keep in mind that all programs are not created equal. One of the other tidbits of information I left out is that my career also has been in the supply chain, spanning retail, hybrid e-commerce, and now direct fulfillment. I’ve taken part in e-commerce as it progressed from business-to-business to business‑to-consumer. This ever-changing environment not only made developing a program challenging but also forced me to be persistently fluid as global business itself was transforming. If all of this was not riveting enough, the field of LP was also undergoing a major change where careers within the supply chain were beginning to grow. Right time, right place was at work.

When a company decides it needs an LP program, typically something has occurred, usually in succession with something that has facilitated that need. It doesn’t matter if the company is a startup or has been around for 100 years; neither does its size, rate of growth, or number of employees. The driving factor is usually progressive loss. This loss may have a significant impact on the company’s profitability, or its customers are pushing for change. Additionally, the company does not employ a subject matter expert who can identify the exposures and create programs to mitigate them.

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I’ve seen numerous companies pursue program development without really understanding LP. Often, losses have occurred due to security exposures or theft, and a common mistake is thinking the program should be reactionary. This is where all too many companies go down the road of hiring a retired law enforcement officer to head the program. During my time in the industry, I have met and worked with numerous professionals who came out of law enforcement. Most were talented but had little, if any, experience in the private sector.

The Value of Experience

What the C-suite sometimes fails to recognize is the most obvious rule within any profession—there is no substitute for time and industry experience. An LP professional can’t walk off the street and be expected to run a law enforcement agency as the chief or agent-in-charge. So, why should we assume a former law enforcement professional can walk into a business and immediately create a department in the private sector? Not to say it’s impossible; however, it is extremely difficult. The learning curve and internal relationship building for any business is normally six months. And when a company is hemorrhaging money, waiting six months to make an impact is not a viable option.

Fundamental Principles

After years of building programs, I’ve found that you must act immediately and focus on the following key areas:

Business Acumen. This is one of the most important attributes many professionals miss and it can set the stage for long-term success—or rapid failure. Regardless of what company I have worked for or what my responsibilities encompassed, during the first ninety days of employment I’ve tried to visit as many locations as possible. And while visiting those locations, I would avoid the nickel-and-dime tour in favor of walking the floor with a member of operations management. I’ve often referred to this approach as ground-up politics, which serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides an operational understanding of the processes and procedures within that facility.
  • It reveals the operational challenges firsthand, which in turn builds a foundation to determine how you can best form an effective LP strategy on the fly.
  • It shows the operators that you truly care about their business and genuinely want to help them.

By putting your business hat on first and your LP hat on second, you are then seen as part of the solution to an operator’s problems. Once you’ve accomplished this at enough locations, word will quickly spread of your role as a true business partner.

Help Me Help You. For those of you who have seen the movie Jerry Maguire, this classic line came out of the locker room conversation Tom Cruise, playing a sports agent, was having with his one and only client, Cuba Gooding Jr., who was playing the part of an NFL wide receiver. In that speech, Jerry Maguire profoundly begged his client to “help me, help you.” This phrase works just as well, if not better, in business.

It’s about human nature. Have you ever met someone who is overwhelmed or asked to serve as the expert in a role or responsibility they’re not qualified to do? In most companies that never had a structured, industry standard LP program, I’ve found that operations, human resources, or a combination of both have been asked to serve as subject matter experts in LP, asset protection, and security. If you offer to take on that role, you will be surprised how many will gladly hand over the responsibility. By using this approach, you will accomplish the task of taking on the work you were hired to do without needing to push internal partners to give it to you.

Understanding Personalities. Regardless of whether you are hourly, salaried, entry-level, mid-management, or at the executive table, each person has a different personality, both personally and professionally. While the overall company culture might lead the herd in a certain direction and toward a common goal, individualism will always be present.

For an LP professional, it’s easy to lose focus on the importance of developing relationships within the organization. However, the task of selling yourself as the answer to reducing or eliminating loss isn’t enough. If a company has never had an industry standard program, there will be skepticism of what your role is or should be, how you will go about achieving those objectives, and what impact you will have on the person you are supporting—in other words, to sell folks on what they don’t necessarily think they need takes skill.

However, overcoming this is not as difficult as it sounds, and can be achieved by developing an effective relationship with the person you are dealing with. Understand what makes that person tick, personally and professionally. Find commonalities, no matter how small. You will quickly realize trust will grow and a partnership will follow. And once that partnership forms, that person will soon become an ally and help spread the word to their peers. It truly is a domino effect, and it works.

Return on Investment (ROI). These are the most important three words in business. Globally, almost every business is held to standards which reflect cost savings, revenue generation, accuracy, and quality. In the field of LP, I’ve often heard how hard it is to justify the department’s worth. How are you supposed to gauge results with a metric that implies spending money on initiatives or head count will save the company money? And when building a program, the ability to achieve and show ROI must be accomplished quickly. That’s why it’s important the department head takes a measured approach that resembles building floors in a skyscraper.

In the first year, most of the time will be spent being tactical verses strategic. At any given time, you will act as the private, sergeant, lieutenant, and general. The major benefit of having to play all these parts is it allows you to identify problems quickly and easily pick the low-hanging fruit. Whether it be theft or erroneous maintenance agreements on equipment that can be canceled, your job is to identify loss, determine the root cause of the exposure, and put measures in place that mitigate the loss and prevent it from recurring. Then take that ROI and use it to start building the team, one person at a time.

Communicate Success. You are your best advocate, and make sure everyone knows it. I’ve always liked to preempt a formalized goal process by keeping a running log of our accomplishments. This includes measurables such as how many investigations were carried out, how much money or product was recovered, and how much money was saved to operations. Talk it up to management, leadership, and anyone else who will listen. Try, if possible, to provide a year-end “state of the union” for your program to executive leadership. The point is, don’t be afraid to talk about the benefits you are creating for the organization. Before you know it, everyone in the company will know who you are and what your program is about.

Keep It Simple. As daunting as building a program can be, your best approach is to keep it simple enough so everyone can understand the mission. I’ve always relied on these basic concepts:

  • Create an environment that emphasizes loss prevention versus loss reaction.
  • Ensure everything being developed aligns with industry standards.
  • Regardless of what our responsibilities are in the company, we must focus on two things: profit and loss. If we’re not all working together to promote profitability, then we’re all impacted by what loss will bring to the organization.

Creating a program is not that difficult if a plan is utilized. There is a fine line between success and failure, and the pendulum can quickly swing in either direction. If done correctly, you will discover that what you are creating will become a critical part of the business and ultimately change company culture. That is the secret of success—from the ground floor to the top of the skyscraper.

Glenn Master is the director of asset protection and security at McLane Company, and president and co-founder of the International Supply Chain Protection Organization. He has more than twenty years of loss prevention and security management experience both domestically and internationally. Master also formerly served as an adjunct professor with Texas Christian University teaching courses in Criminal Justice and was also student liaison for the Loss Prevention Foundation. His educational background includes a BA in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas-Arlington and a MS in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati.

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