Friday, December 11, 2009

The Demise of the Keeper of the Problem

While the concept of synergy has been widely espoused throughout the business world and certainly does result in many positive benefits, it is seldom the answer to problems, because the synergistic approach is intended to supplement other management philosophies and practices, not totally supplant them.

The basic concept of synergy – that cooperative interaction produces a result greater than the sum of individual efforts – has manifested itself in various ways, many of which are based on the Total Quality Management platform. But there is an old adage that says “When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” And the strict adherents to the synergistic approach unfortunately (or conveniently) forget that adage. Those proponents/adherents like to believe that group dynamics is the only way to problem-solve. But what they forget is that someone still has to accept ultimate responsibility for problem resolution – someone has to be the “Keeper of the Problem.”

Businesses cannot operate successfully when everything is done by the committee process (which is usually the outward manifestation of the synergistic approach) – there are simply too many different disciplines involved in the running of a successful enterprise for everyone to be deeply involved in everything. Yes, looking at issues from a variety of disparate points of view brings new perspectives and uncovers additional potential strategies and solutions. But what happens after the identification of deficiencies and their resolutions is what distinguishes the traditional management philosophy from a totally synergistic approach. In the synergistic model, all stakeholders in the problem and resolution identification process believe that they all share responsibility for resolution implementation. This is usually a logistically-unworkable situation. But the traditional model recognizes the value of outside input while still placing responsibility for resolution implementation squarely where it belongs, with the person or department with direct and specific expertise, authority and responsibility for the issue at hand – the “Keeper of the Problem.”

Even in organizations which claim to totally embrace the synergistic approach, there usually are some vestiges of the traditional management model: Departments are usually delineated by common function; individuals usually have job descriptions/titles connoting their specific functions; and some hierarchical structure usually exists. So there is some recognition of role and rank delineation, based on subject-matter expertise, which in itself concedes that everyone cannot know everything about everything; and which also concedes that order and efficiency necessitates some role and hierarchical rank delineation. In other words, every organization needs to identify subject-matter expertise and assign commensurate authority and responsibility – to the “Keeper of the Problem.”

Keeping everyone aware and advised of everyone else’s issues and problems is basically a good concept – it gives a broader perspective and helps everyone understand the “big picture.” But what usually happens is that people begin to think that they know everything about everything, and that they can thus fix everything. So everyone becomes involved in everything ELSE, frequently to the exclusion of their own job.

In days of yore, when dinosaurs roamed and ruled the planet, everyone had a neat and compartmentalized job. Everyone knew exactly what his job was, and it was expected – nay demanded – that the jobs be performed to a high degree of excellence. And when everyone had a job and knew how to do it and in fact did it, everything got done well. And that included security and loss prevention. And our companies’ assets were protected, and the world was happy. Because there were “Keepers of the Problem” – people with responsibility and commensurate authority and accountability.

This is not a new concept – it is tried-and-true. We didn’t get away from this concept because it didn’t work; we got away from it because the management gurus (ala Tom Peters) found that offering new ways of doing things with the HOPE that things might get better would sell their programs. But what they forgot to put in their books and videos and training programs was that change does not always bring positive results; change can also bring negative results. Change is not necessarily better, it is just different. And……. something that has been said for far longer than any of us have been around is still oh-so-true today:

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Equitable System for Evaluating Personnel

In my communications with security practitioners, I frequently hear the lament about the inadequacy of standards or criteria used for evaluating personnel (and I suspect that this is an issue in many other industries as well). So in an attempt to shed some light on a subject for which I was personally responsible during my years as a Security Director, I offer the following insights:

The fact that there can be so many variables in a person’s employment situation – the type of enterprise, location of facilities, reporting structure, philosophy of immediate supervisor, etc. – makes it of utmost importance to have a performance evaluation system in place that accounts for these differences.

I have always believed that every job title needed 3 corresponding personnel-related formal documents:

Job Description - This is a document unique to a job title, applicable to anyone with that job title. It contains the formal, HR-based, legally-required information such as generalized duties and responsibilities; reporting structure; OSHA and FLSA classifications; salary grade; minimum knowledge, skills and abilities required; working conditions, etc.

Performance Expectations – This is a document unique to a job title, applicable to anyone with that job title. It contains the general guidelines outlining what is minimally expected and required of any and all individuals in a given job title – what is minimally necessary to succeed in and retain the job.

Performance Standards - This is a document related to a job title, but customized and tailored specifically to each employee with that job title. It contains the objective, measurable and quantifiable standards common to the job title, which are then apportioned and weighted in a unique way to each individual based on the individual’s unique combination of experience and situation (as a very simplified example: the performance standards for every individual with the “LP Agent” job title contains a line item for “making external apprehensions.” But Joe’s standard is weighted at 30 percent because Joe has 3 years of company experience, 2 years of prior experience, and is assigned to a store with many external problems; while Jim’s standard is weighted at only 10 percent because he is a new, inexperienced agent assigned to a store with very few external problems). The Performance Standards then forms the basis for the numerical point total or “grade” that the individual gets at his performance evaluation, and which is then directly and objectively linked to any merit salary raise (for example: 79 points equals a 2.5 percent increase).

After MANY years in management, this is still the most equitable way I know of to account for each employee’s unique situation, rate every employee on an equitable, objective basis, and take away any challengeable differences in salary administration.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Business Considerations of Security

Every organization/landlord has a legal obligation to provide a safe environment, based on the concept of “reasonable security.” Management does not have to guarantee absolute security; however, reasonableness and adequacy of security must be affirmatively demonstrated. This basic concept is founded in most states’ case law. And there is virtually no place that can claim that no security is adequate.

“Reasonable security” has been consistently defined by courts to mean that appropriate security measures must be implemented commensurate with risks which are reasonably foreseeable. And a reasonable consideration of foreseeability has been determined to include the nature of the premises; the history of incidents at the premises; the history of incidents in geographic surroundings; and industry standards.

Adequacy of security is legally defensible only when vulnerabilities and risks are assessed via some formalized process to determine foreseeability; and commensurate security measures are implemented to reasonably address those identified foreseeable risks.

A reasonable assessment process should at least include interviews with key management personnel, representative employee focus groups, and other key stakeholders to determine perceptions about security and security wants/needs; a review of all documentation having anything to do with security (policies/procedures, reports, etc.); and an inspection and analysis of all related property and operations.

A good process for developing a sound security strategy has dual benefits: the program will be designed to protect the organization’s assets; and the program will be legally defensible should it be challenged in court.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Asset Protection is Inherent to Business

The protection of an organization's assets must be an integral part of its overall business strategy. In tight economic times, companies supposedly can't afford risk assessments; but these are exactly the times when they're most needed. Many businesses do not have the proprietary expertise to objectively assess their security vulnerabilities; they need outside assistance. A risk assessment conducted without a professional security practitioner is like a medical diagnosis conducted without a licensed physician.

Maximizing value and profit is not only a function of promoting the sale of goods or services; it is also a function of asset protection.