Category Archives: Article

7 Reasons for Security Awareness Failure

There is a good column currently on CSO Magazine’s online site that is titled “7 Reasons for Security Awareness Failure.”  While it is geared to corporate security environments, it resonates with the retail loss prevention world, as well.  The seven reasons outlined are:

  1. Not understanding what security awareness really is
  2. Reliance on checking the box
  3. Failing to acknowledge that awareness is a unique discipline
  4. Lack of engaging and appropriate materials
  5. Not collecting metrics
  6. Unreasonable expectations
  7. Relying upon a single training exercise

As a provider of training and awareness programs for retail, we see many of these problems on a weekly basis.  I’d suggest you review the article and let us know if you would like to discuss how you can make your awareness investments more successful.


Survival Skills for coping in a doing-more-with-less environment

In the November-December 2012 issue, we looked at the pervasive business culture of “doing more with less” and how, many times, we are trying to fool ourselves and our organizations as to how much can be done with limited resources (see “Doing More with Less? Myth vs. Reality” page 15). While we gave some suggestions on how to change this environment, the reality is that most of us must learn to cope with this situation. In this article we will discuss some survival skills for navigating this difficult issue.

Unfortunately, there are no “magic bullets” that completely solve the issue for most of us. Certainly, one could focus on being more productive through diligent use of daily to-do lists or use of one of the popular time-management systems on the market. However, with the workloads that many are trying to meet, most will find they still run out of time to get to everything that needs to be done.

Instead, the survival skills discussed here are geared toward understanding the full scope of the workload and then prioritizing for the most effectiveness that you can generate as an individual and as an organization. The skills necessary for survival and, hopefully, flourishing in this environment include the following:

  • Identify all task responsibilities,
  • Measure time allocation,
  • Prioritize tasks, and
  • Negotiate resources.

We touched on all these points in the previous article, but in this edition we will focus on the prioritization aspect.

The Problem

One of the greatest challenges that each of us faces in this era of constant communication and overabundance of information is how to prioritize where we spend our time. There is so much pressure—either externally imposed or self-imposed—to be in constant contact, to respond to text and email messages within minutes, and to never admit that there is more on your plate than you can handle, that we find ourselves constantly behind the curve and dashing from task to task with little time for thought or reflection.

As a result we often find that we are never able to get to very important activities and tasks, both at work and in our personal lives. A couple of years ago I was speaking with a group of professionals in our industry on this topic and asked for a show of hands as to how many in the audience would say they are satisfied with their work-life balance. Of the approximately 75 people in the room, not one hand went up. I asked the same question of a different group two days later and got one hand raised out of the fifty people in the room.

For as much as we talk about the importance of work-life balance, it seems pretty clear that not many are achieving this desired state of being. But, this goes behind guilt about not spending enough time with our significant other or our children. You will find the same types of responses when you ask a group of people questions like:

  • Are you spending adequate time making sure you develop yourself professionally?
  • Do you make time to work on new ideas that you think could have a significant, positive impact for your company?
  • Do you devote the needed time to your direct reports? Do you make time to give them feedback, listen to them when they have a problem, and engage with them?
  • Do you set aside time each week for relationship building both within your organization and within your professional network?
  • Is your work aligned with your stated performance objectives for the year? How much of your effort is in support of those goals?

When those questions get asked, you find out just how hard people are working and yet failing to spend hardly any time on some of the most important responsibilities they have to accomplish.


Prioritization requires the ability to synthesize the tremendous amount of information that bombards us, each and every day, and distill those action items that will be the greatest benefit to us and our company. From our work with clients across a wide spectrum of size, market segment, and geography, we find the inability to prioritize to be a chronic problem.

What typically occurs is that we try to prioritize too many items. For instance, in training and awareness programs, it would be a considerable success if you could get every single one of your employees, including part-timers, across the country to consistently execute three to four actions every single time. Yet, many programs try to communicate far too much. We once had a client who wanted to communicate almost twenty-five separate training points on electrical safety alone…in one month.

If you overreach, your net effect is marginalized. Better to solve those three to four issues that are most impactful to your company and then, and only then, move onto the next set of highest priority issues.

In the print media there is a saying for this: “All emphasis is no emphasis.” To say it another way—if everything is in bold, nothing is in bold.

A Prioritization Framework

To help us prioritize those items that are essential to our long-term success, let’s use a framework suggested by Stephen Covey back in his classic 1989 publication titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There are many nuggets in this work that keep it in the ranks of best-selling business books even today. But, the most useful point in the entire book happens to be about prioritization (see sidebar below).

In his chapter on “Put First Things First,” Covey suggests a simple grid that has two axes. The vertical axis differentiates between things that are important and those that are not. The horizontal axis is based on whether things are urgent or not urgent. The resulting grid (below) yields four quadrants.

Time/Priority Table

Quadrants I vs. II. When I’ve asked audience members to identify where they should spend most of their time, the usual choice is quadrant one. After all, quadrant I contains those items that are both “Important” and “Urgent.” These are the things like pressing deadlines, the crisis that erupts unplanned, a new order from an important client, a health problem for you or a loved one, and other significant events that have to be addressed here and now.

However, Covey maintains, and I agree, that the things that are most important to your long-term success actually occur in quadrant II. These are items that are “Important,” but “Not Urgent.” Think about what goes into this bucket. Here are some suggestions to consider:Examples

  • Long-term planning
  • People development
  • Relationship building
  • Spiritual life
  • Personal health or exercise
  • Prioritization
  • Professional development, such as attending a conference
  • Family time

No doubt, you can add many more items to this list both in the professional and personal arenas. Few would disagree that these are important items, but you will notice that most of them do not have a deadline attached to them. These are the things you have to make room for on your schedule if you hope to accomplish them—especially in the era of “doing more with less.”

There is also a distinct relationship between quadrant II and quadrant I. The more time you spend in QII, the less time you will likely have to spend in QI.

For instance, if more time is spent planning a process and training the appropriate personnel, the less likely it is that they will make errors that require “fighting fires.” The more time spent maintaining your health, the less likely it is that you will need to be rushed to the emergency room for care, which is clearly a QI situation. The more time you spend developing your people, the less likely it will be that you will have to step in, last minute, on a project they are running that is going badly.

Of course, in our line of work there will always be a crisis to be addressed. Some of that is the nature of our industry and job responsibilities. But, even in areas such as theft, more time spent on training, prevention, and education activities is likely to result in fewer incidents that need to be investigated.

Urgent, but not Important. Quadrant III activities are things that are urgent, but not important. How can that be? Usually, that’s because it’s urgent to someone else, but not important to your goals. These are interruptions, distractions, time wasted in non-productive meetings, and other demands that are usually foisted upon us by someone else. These can also be the endless emails that you are copied on that don’t really need your involvement or attention.

To reduce our time in this area, we must learn to say “No.” How often has someone asked you to be involved in something—a task force, a committee, or a special event—that is a few months down the road and, without much thought, you say “Yes”? Then, as it gets closer to time, you start asking yourself, “What was I thinking?” Keep in mind this one little rule—”A ‘Yes’ to one thing is a ‘No’ to another.” And, that other thing is often a quadrant II activity that you no longer have time for in your schedule.

Not Urgent and Not Important. Finally, Quadrant IV activity is mindless time-wasting. Sitting down and relaxing in front of a television show might be a good release for you, but you might question the value of following a dozen reality shows. Checking and rechecking Facebook or Twitter over and over again out of fear of missing something will do little for your long-term success. Capturing a handful of photos of your child’s soccer game is reasonable, while snapping 300 photos of one game just creates a cycle of time commitment to manage them that is very low on the yield curve.

An Action Plan

Use this framework as you plan out your work for the week, month, and year…you are planning your work, right? Try to spend at least 10 percent of your time on QII activity, both at work and at home. Ideally, try to get the number up to 30 percent. This is not easy in a “do more with less” environment, but you will begin to notice that you start to get ahead of the curve. You might even find yourself being truly “proactive” now and again.

The results won’t be instantaneous. You won’t suddenly find yourself getting all of your work done in forty hours a week. But, you’ll find all kinds of benefits that save you time.

  • A new opportunity will pop up as a result of reconnecting with a former colleague.
  • You will implement a new process at your company from what you learned at a professional conference you attended.
  • You will get rid of the high-cholesterol medicine you’ve been taking because you have spent some time in the gym.
  • You will find time in your schedule because you can remove yourself from projects that your subordinates are now able to manage as a result of the time you spent with them on training
  • and development.

You are also likely to find that you don’t really miss “Ice Road Truckers,” “Dance Moms,” or the various pawn-shop shows. You might find that actually engaging with the other people you are with at lunch is more rewarding than checking the score of the baseball game on your phone, checking every email that buzzes in, and tweeting a photo of your plate of lasagna.

Finally, and probably most importantly, when your boss comes to you and says, “Bill, we are going to have to do more with less,” you can quickly show him where you are spending your time, what priorities you are pursuing, and ask him to weigh in on what items you should drop off your list.

Can you imagine having one of your employees having that type of information at their disposal? Can you imagine them having concrete priorities that have been well thought out to share with you? Can you imagine them coming to you to get your input on the items they have in the different quadrants?

As a manager of people, I can’t imagine anything better.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By Stephen R. Covey

This book was the first of a series of highly acclaimed titles from Stephen R. Covey, who was recognized by Time magazine as one of the twenty-five most influential Americans. The book has sold over 20 million copies in thirty-eight languages and appears near or at the top of most lists that rank the best business books of all time.

The book discusses moving from a state of dependence to independence and then interdependence through the following seven steps:

Habit 1—Be Proactive Making the decision to improve one’s life by making changes where one can versus reacting to external forces.

Habit 2—Begin with the End in Mind Developing a personal mission statement based on principles that can form the basis of long-term goals.

Habit 3—Put First Things First Spending time and focus on the key items on your personal mission.

Habit 4—Think Win-Win Seeking relationships and agreements with others that are mutually beneficial.

Habit 5—Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood Putting oneself in another person’s place and listening empathetically to both feelings and meanings of what is being expressed.

Habit 6—Synergize Finding ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Habit 7—Sharpen the Saw Taking time for renewal and balance of one’s physical, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions.

Doing More with Less? Myth vs. Reality

Over the past few years, the mantra of “doing more with less” has become so ingrained in corporate and business jargon that it goes unchallenged, unquestioned, and accepted as a legitimate business strategy. It is almost impossible to pick up a business publication, a newspaper, or read an industry blog without hearing the phrase. A quick Google search of the phrase yields thousands of news articles featuring businesses, non-profits, government agencies, schools, and even sports teams that are facing the challenge of “doing more with less.”

And this is not solely an issue in the U.S. As I travel around the world and read local publications and talk to business executives in Europe, Asia, or South Africa, they face the same challenge inherent in this conceptual language.

In the loss prevention industry, we have certainly been as challenged as any group in the business community to “do more with less.” This phrase is heard at virtually every LP conference, in industry publications, and within the halls of corporate offices across the retail industry. This magazine, in fact, published a cover story in November-December 2008 at the beginning of the recent recession entitled, “The Economic Crisis—Doing More with Less.”

While this phrase might have been a well-intentioned response to budget constraints when we first started hearing it, “doing more with less” has risen to the level of unchallenged manifesto. It is only recently that we have started to see some challenges and questioning of the tenets of this philosophy and an examination of the implications of this as a business strategy.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a column titled “Doing More with Less. Seriously?” for the RILA Asset Protection Report published by the Retail Industry Leaders Association. In this column I took a look at whether this omnipresent catchphrase could be true or if we are misusing it to avoid addressing key underlying issues in the way we manage ourselves, our people, and our workload.

Out of the hundreds of articles, columns, and blog posts I have written over the years, I have never received the volume of reaction, feedback, and appreciation as I did to this one little column. I suspect this was because it resonated so well with those of you who live with this challenge every day.

It reminded me of the scene toward the beginning of the movie Jerry Maguire where the main character challenges the status of the sports-agent industry and suggests that agents should work with fewer athletes and invest more time and care into each one, even if that means making less money. An excited colleague congratulates Maguire and says, “Finally, someone said it!”

Of course, Maguire gets fired as a result. Speaking the truth is not without risk.

In this article, we are going to take a look at these issues and how we might shift our thinking about the phrase “doing more with less.” We will not pretend that budget pressures and resource constraints do not exist. Instead, we’ll look at how we might manage differently in this environment that goes beyond a buzzword or phrase.

“Flying” through the Work Day

The inspiration for the newsletter column came to me when I was flying home from a meeting. We were about 25 minutes late in pushing back from the gate when the pilot came on the public-address system. He said that he still anticipated an on-time arrival as we would “try to make up some time en route.” After thinking about this for a few minutes, I could only come up with four possible ways that could happen:

■ We could fly faster,

■ We could fly a more direct route,

■ There was already time built into the original schedule to mitigate these types of delays, or

■ We could travel to a different destination.

Those were the only possibilities I could come up with that would allow us to arrive on time.

Let’s apply a similar analysis to the statement that we are going to “do more with less” in the business environment. How is this possible? There are four possibilities that are analogous to the airplane example I just used:

■ We are going to have our people work more hours (“fly faster”),

■ We have discovered a more effective way to do the same work (“more direct route”),

■ We had excess capacity previously (“extra time already built into the schedule”). In other words we had people or resources that were not fully being utilized, or

■ We are going to produce different results (“different destination”).

Let’s look at the list in reverse order. The fourth option—different results—is often the actual result of cutting budgets, reducing resources, and eliminating payroll. It is not the intended outcome, but certainly a logical one.

The third option is not one that many senior loss prevention executives would want to speak up about in a leadership meeting. Who wants to say they aren’t currently utilizing all of their resources, especially when budget cuts and resource constraints have been occurring for several years as organizations have tried to squeeze more productivity out of their people.

The second option is certainly the one that most of us like to believe is the answer. Perhaps there is a way to better leverage technology, to eliminate unnecessary or redundant processes, or to streamline procedures in a way that won’t affect desired outcomes. However, when pressed to identify specifics, most executives have a hard time identifying what “synergies,” “efficiencies,” and “reengineered processes” are to be realized, especially, once again, when every company has been looking to do this year after year over the past decade. At what point is there no more substantive efficiency to be found?

Finally, consider the first option—work harder, work more hours, and at a faster pace. In the world of aviation, jets can, in fact, fly faster than the original flight plan and schedule demands. But, this increased speed comes at a high cost—much higher fuel burn rates. This is probably a great analogy for the human costs and sustainability for having our people work more hours or work harder. Can it be done? Certainly. But, for how long before effectiveness and efficiency start to drop?

Achieving Desired Results

In reality we use a combination of the above solutions to the problem, plus one very important coping mechanism that is not on the list because it doesn’t fit the definition of “doing more with less.” In fact, when we say that phrase, most of us really don’t mean it literally. Usually, it is understood that our goal is to “do the same with less.” In other words, we are going to cut your budget, your payroll, and the resources available to you, but you still need to deliver the same shrinkage result or safety metrics.

But all of the challenges enumerated above remain, and we end up using one key tactic—we stop doing some things we were doing before. This could be a little less of everything or a complete elimination of certain tasks. For instance, we could go from auditing every location three times each period to only twice per period. Or, we could audit the same number of times, but not go as in-depth on each item and spend a little less time going over the results with the store manager. Each of these would be a way to do a “little less” than before in hopes that it won’t affect the desired results.

Another strategy would be to completely eliminate certain questions or audit points from the audit, or stop conducting audits in low-shrinkage locations. Again, the goal would be to eliminate certain low-value tasks in hopes that results are not impacted.

The point is that it’s probably unrealistic to think we are going to be able to “do the same with less” much less “do more with less.” Therefore, if we want to achieve the desired results, it is imperative on the part of senior management to be engaged in deciding what tasks and responsibilities are eliminated or done less thoroughly. Otherwise, those decisions will be made…consciously or unconsciously…by each individual in the field who is trying to squeeze 80 hours of work into a 50-hour workweek.

If that happens you will have a tremendous amount of variance on what is actually being done in the field and when your results come in—good or bad. You will have a hard time evaluating whether to continue with current budget levels or not.

Workload/Task Analysis—What Is on Our Plate?

One very effective way of discovering whether your organization is fooling itself is to do a workload/task analysis. In this analysis you take key positions and identify all of the task expectations that fall on that role. For instance, if you are looking at a district LP manager (DLPM) position, you would identify all of the tasks they are responsible for, including such things as:

■ Audits,

■ Conference calls,

■ Exception report review,

■ Investigations, including court time,

■ District, national, or departmental meetings,

■ Target-store program,

■ Travel,

■ Physical inventory prep, overview, and analysis,

■ Safety activities,

■ Training meetings,

■ Physical security repairs, and

■ New store openings.

Once you have identified the tasks, you then assign an average amount of time needed to properly complete each one and roll it up to a standardized work period. Let’s take a look at a retailer who recently did this very type of analysis for their district LP manager position.

First of all, they found the average number of hours worked per week was in the 53-plus-hour range (see “DLPM Hours Worked” chart at right). This was not particularly shocking despite the fact that the job is, theoretically, a 42.5 hour per week job in their company. However, this is very important information because it already starts to give perspective on the “work harder” idea. We are so used to bragging about how many hours a week we work that we tend to think that 53 to 56 hours a week doesn’t sound like too much. But, that is a significant workload.

Second, when they annualized how many work days it would take for them to get all of the tasks completed that they are responsible for, it came out to 378 work days a year (see “DLPM Days Required” chart). Don’t forget, the “typical” number of workdays available to any employee working five days a week is 250. Even if you planned on a six-day workweek, every week of the year, there would only be 300 days available.

Even if some of the methodology was off slightly, it seems clear that the gap is so pronounced that there is no possibility that everything on the list is being completed. Additionally, their task list did not capture very important aspects of the job, such as planning, strategy development, professional development, relationship building, and other qualitative activities that can have a direct impact on effectiveness.

But, the story gets better.

Over the past couple of years, this organization has been trying to “do more with less.” Part of that effort is to identify some areas where one district LP manager can cover two districts. Typically, they try to do this where there is relatively low shrinkage and good geographical proximity of locations.

When this same analysis was done for these “dual-district” positions, the annualized work days needed to accomplish all required tasks jumped to an astonishing 482 workdays. After analysing the results, they found:

■ Non-store tasks go up disproportionately for dual-district LP managers,

■ DLPMs with two districts spent 13 percent less time in stores than their counterparts, and

■ Shrink results were significantly worse, based on delta change, where “doing more with less.”

This is not an isolated case. Time and time again when organizations do these types of task analyses, we find there are gaps of 55 to 80 percent between available work hours and the amount of time required to complete all tasks per expectations.

Time Tracking—Where Are We Really Spending Our Time?

Another tool that needs to be used is to do some actual time tracking. This can yield different results than the task analysis since the task analysis is based on where we are theoretically spending our time versus the reality of where we actually do. This can be harder to accomplish as efforts in this direction will usually be met with scepticism from the workforce as they perceive it to be an attempt to micromanage their schedules or gather information with which to criticize them.

However, the benefits of this information can be significant. Let’s look at another case study from another loss prevention organization that illustrates the power of this information.

In this case we had a high-growth retailer that was rapidly expanding, but not operationally competent at the field level due to the aggressive growth, including a major acquisition. Shrinkage was running approximately 125 percent higher than anticipated for their retail segment and footprint. There was pressure for higher earnings contributions to the parent organization due to expectations in the financial markets, so they were trying to grow aggressively while keeping payroll budgets flat.

In anticipation of tough resource constraints, we ran a time-tracking study to identify where the regional loss prevention managers (RLPM) were spending their time (see “RLPM Time-Tracking Analysis” chart). The average RLPM was working 54.6 hours per week, broken down by the following categories in descending order:

■ Audits = 34%

■ Travel = 28%

■ Investigations = 20%

■ Administration = 12%

■ Training = 6%

Additionally, based on the task analysis, the group was already 94 days in deficit to expectations on deliverables. By having this information, the entire dynamic of budget discussions changed. Of course, the CFO and budget committee wanted to keep payroll flat while the vice president of loss prevention wanted to add two RLPMs to handle the additional workload of 45 to 50 new stores.

Based on the data, the LP executive simply asked, “What do you want us to give up?” His first suggestion was, “How about we only audit stores two times per year versus the current three times standard?” The head of operations immediately said, “No, with the operational challenges we face and shrinkage being so high, those are absolutely critical.”

His second suggestion was, “How about we don’t do all of the investigations we are currently doing? Maybe the district managers of operations can handle the smaller cases?” There was consensus from the executive group that the DMs did not have the necessary skills to do this and that they needed to remain focused on sales and presentation standards in the stores.

The LP executive finally asked for suggestions on what other activities could be cut from the workload of the RLPMs. No one had any ideas. Guess what? They budgeted for two new RLPM positions.

Real-World Data Is Required

In a business environment that is moving more and more toward data-based decisions and where the emergence of “big data” is one of the real buzzwords in corporate hallways, we are often in a severe data deficit when it comes to where our people resources are spending their time, what their task expectations are, and what is realistic to expect from them.

This is not an article to complain about the workloads our employees are carrying, although there is significant evidence that there are severe costs in working long hours on a continuous basis. For instance, one study found that young medical doctors who worked longer shifts made almost 36 percent more serious mistakes.

Instead, the focus must be on how we navigate this “do more with less” environment. I’m convinced that we often do not have the courage to speak up more aggressively because we have not done the work of collecting the data we need. As one CFO used to say at budget time, “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

In the budget example above, the outcome was a “win” for the head of loss prevention. But, it could also have been a win without getting the two new positions as long as the service expectations were adjusted to align with reality. The biggest mistake is to try and deliver the same results and task deliverables while having resources reduced. Something has to give.

Articulating Cause and Effect

Perhaps adding these data points to our tool box will help us better articulate the cause and effect of loss prevention resources on shrinkage and safety outcomes. Over the years, we have seen company after company go through the same cycle where, when results are good, they cut resources to the LP team, as if the problem had been solved once and for all.

Every time this happens, it is relatively easy to predict the pattern. Within a two- to four-year window, shrinkage trends up and increases in velocity in the wrong direction over time. This is when the organization reaches what my good friend, Adrian Beck from Leicester University in the U.K., calls the “tipping point.” This is the point where the results are so unacceptable that the organization believes something must be done. Oftentimes, they change the leadership team and, almost always, reinvest in resources for the loss prevention effort. It becomes a priority once again.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to collect the data on the things we do that affect shrinkage.


Return on Investment (ROI) for Loss Prevention

At the recent RILA Loss Prevention Conference, the VP of Finance for a major retailer gave a presentation on how budget requests.  In his presentation, he talked about three measures that they use on a regular basis:

  • Net Present Value (NPV)
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR)
  • Payback Period

These measures are used broadly by finance groups to evaluate resource requests, especially capital budget requests.  If you would like to learn more about the technical aspects of these tools, you can view the article I wrote on this topic for LP Magazine many years ago on our website.  Sometimes it helps to use examples that relate to our specific field and this article that very thing.

Organizational Alignment for Loss Prevention

At the recent FMI Asset Protection conference in New Orleans, I had a chance to address the group on the issue of how Loss Prevention groups align themselves, or don’t, with the overall organization and senior management.  I’ve written on this topic on several other occassions and believe that it continues to be a critical issue for all retailers.

In preparation for this event, I was able to work with Rhett Asher at FMI to conduct an exclusive survey on this topic.  We asked both senior Loss Prevention executives and CEO’s/Senior Management to give their views on how well their Loss Prevention group integrates into the overall mission of the company and where focus and improvement needs to occur.  We were pleased to get good participation from both groups and the findings contained both good news and also some indicators of opportunity for us.

In general, senior executives believed that the Loss Prevention was critical to their company’s success and that they were doing a pretty good job, although not as good of a job as Loss Prevention executives rated their own group.  However, senior executives tended to have a fairly narrow view of critical focus areas which might indicate some failure on our part to communicate the broad range of value and contribution we make to ther organization.

In upcoming months, look for an article in LP Magazine where we will give the detailed results of the survey and some ideas on how to improve organizational alignment with the enterprise.