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Training & Awareness: Do Your Employees Know What to Do?

At this year’s RILA conference in Orlando, I presented a general session where we talked about the various performance “levers” that exist and how they can be used more effectively. There is a tendency for managers to push on the same one or two levers over and over again, even if they are not the ones that will have the most impact on performance.

One of the first levers we discussed was task clarification. This simply means, “Do our employees know what we want them to do?” Now, this may seem like a silly question to you. You may be saying to yourself, “Well, of course they know what we want them to do!” But, I suspect we have all used task clarification on a regular basis.

For instance, have you ever been in a meeting where you have been discussing a performance issue and the resolution of the meeting was that someone said, “We’ll send out a memo on this!” That, my friends, is task clarification.

Task clarification can be very effective if the problem is, in fact, that employees are unclear on what you want them to do or don’t understand your performance expectations. However, one of the points in my presentation is that task clarification will have little impact if your employees already know what you want them to do but don’t have the incentives, the proper tools or systems, or the capacity to complete the task.

In this post, I’d like to explore task clarification a little more closely and make sure that we use it in a way that is effective in changing the behavior of our employees. Isn’t that the goal of our training and awareness programs?

Effective task clarification has the following characteristics:

 It is specific to the task at-hand.
 It communicates to employees what you want them to actually do
 It identifies what model performance looks like
 It clearly communicates what is not acceptable

Let’s look at some of the training and awareness messages that companies use in terms of these four characteristics. For example, probably all of us have evangelized on the phrase, “The best deterrent to shoplifting is customer service.” This mantra has been communicated in training meetings, on posters, in videos, and on conference calls. Like many corporate mission statements, there is nothing there that you can argue with, but is it an effective training message?

Assuming an hourly associate gets that message, does it tell them what you want them to do? If they see a customer who looks “suspicious,” what are they supposed to do? If they see a woman stick a blouse in her purse, what are they supposed to do? If a customer comes out of the fitting room with fewer items than they entered with, what are they supposed to do?

And, just as importantly, especially in our business, what are they not supposed to do?

Here’s another example…many organizations have spent significant effort and time to get their employees to know their most recent shrink result and the goal for the current inventory period. Executives from the corporate office visit the store and ask employees, “Do you know your most recent inventory shrinkage number?” If the employee responds correctly, the executives are pleased, they tell the Store Manager and DLPM, “Great job!” and look forward to great results from the upcoming physical inventory.

But, is it possible that all those employees have committed the number to memory but have no idea what they are supposed to do to make the number lower? Is it possible that, left to their own, well-intentioned efforts, they might actually do things that you don’t want them to do?

When designing and implementing your training & awareness programs, focus on the behavior outcomes you want from your employees and make sure your communication has the four characteristics listed above and you stand a good chance to improving results.


Technology and Loss Prevention: Friend or Foe?

What amazing times we live in these days! I’m blogging this post from 35,000 feet on a Delta flight with wireless internet service. In the past hour, I’ve responded to emails from Japan, UK, Canada, and France that came in overnight, rebooked a flight on, sent four text messages to cell phones from my email, and taken care of paying some bills from my online banking account. I remember when a “powerful” personal computer used one 5.25″ floppy drive to run your application (only one at a time) and the other 5.25″ was your “hard drive.”

What impact is technology having on our industry and our efforts to battle fraud and reduce loss? Most of us would have a gut reaction that it is a positive impact. We could support that by citing the use of databases to track cases and share information; POS exception reporting that helps identify fraud at the register; digital CCTV systems that allow us to look-in on stores in real-time or review high risk transactions from the convenience of our computer screen; or the ability to integrate access control, alarm systems, CCTV, and other systems.

However, a contrarian might cite the use of the world-wide web to launch attacks on corporate websites or data; increased ease of sharing information between criminals about targets and security measures; the tremendous vulnerability that PCI non-compliance can have on an organization; the emergence of internet auction sites and their role in disposition of stolen goods; or the potential negative impact on shrinkage when data integrity is accidentally comprised with implementation of new equipment, systems, or technology platforms in our organizations.

What is your view of the impact of technology on our efforts for the good or the bad?


Pandemic Planning: Swine Flu Could Infect Up to 50% of Population

Today’s homepage has the headline “Swine Flu could infect to half of population” as government agencies and the medical community work to increase awareness of the likely resurgence of H1N1 this Fall season.  Is your business taking steps to prepare for this issue?  Do you have a communication and education strategy in-place for your employees, contractors, and customers?  Are you availing yourself to the tremendous number of resources availabe at

There are no “magic bullets” in dealing with H1N1.  Yes, vaccinations should be available by mid-October but there could be significant spread of the flu by that time, especially with the return of children to schools.  Even when vaccines are available, priority will be given to at-risk individuals first.  In the meantime, routine and mundane steps like washing hands, covering coughs, and staying home when you are sick are the keys to prevention.  Employers can help the process along with things like communication, sick leave provisions, and hand sanitizer programs.


Organized Retail Crime (ORC) – Conference Events

Earlier this month, The Home Depot and Universal Surveillance co-hosted an ORC conference in Atlanta that drew about 200 attendees.  The conference was very well run and the facilities were simply outstanding.  There were two good presentations on pawn shop issues in Detroit and Connecticut, but two presentations really caught my attention.

First, Glenn Justice and Scott Sanford presented their approach to ORC at their organization, Barnes & Noble.  They have built an outstanding data mining tool to use with Ebay to identify potential high-dollar ORC sellers.  Combining this tool and other analysis tools, they are closing out major cases in two to three days through their unique approach.  It was really an insightful and provocative angle to address ORC.

Second, Paul Jones from Ebay was there and outlined their approach for improving partnership with the retail loss prevention community.  Many in our industry are doubtful about Ebay’s true intention, but Paul said all the right things and it seems to me that we, as an industry, should give him and Ebay a chance to work with us and then we can decide whether they are sincere or not.

In a few months, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts will be holding an ORC conference in Worcester, MA.  Approximately 300 people are expected to attend.  I hope to see you there!


National Association for Shoplifting Prevention: A Good Resource?

I have recently been talking with Barbara Staib from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) about their program  They are very interested in working retailers on the issue of shoplifting.  Their services are free to the retailers and offer options on dealing with both adult and juvenile shoplifters.  Some practitioners might think that NASP is “soft” or shoplifters or that they are a twelve-step program.  This is not true.

NASP can work with you whether you prosecute shoplifters or whether you release them.  In a day and age where it is getting harder and harder to get police response and prosecute shoplifting cases, especially juveniles, there program may have something to offer.  If you’d like more information, you can visit their website or email Barbara directly at  I would also note that they have a lot of statistical information about shoplifters and shoplifting.


Is the Job Market for LP Starting to “Heat Up”?

In the past few weeks, there are some signs the job market is starting to heat up a bit – at least at the field LP level.  Regional Loss Prevention Manager jobs at Dollar General, Charming Shoppes, Radio Shack, CVS, Wet Seal, Sears, Lowes, and others are being posted on and Linkedin.  Add some District Loss Prevention Manager jobs, Distribution Center Loss Prevention jobs, and opportunities for analysts and ORC investigators and it seems like things might be picking up in our industry.


U.K. Counterterrorism Office Helps Shopping Centers Prepare

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office in the U.K. is holding training days to help shopping centers prepare against terrorist attacks. “Crowded places, including shopping centers, are likely to feature in the attack plans of terrorist organizations in the future as they are usually locations with limited protective security measures and therefore afford the potential for mass fatalities and casualties,” it reported. Full article here..


The Sky Is Falling: Why Do We Celebrate Bad News?

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in our industry that puzzles me.  It seems we believe the best way to get additional attention, funding, and staffing is to celebrate failure or bad news.  A headline in the recent Security Director News, a publication that I think does a great job, reads, “Industry agrees, it’s no surprise shrink is up.”  It details the preliminary NRSS results which show an increase in shrink from 1.44% to 1.52%.  Article after article in the mainstream media highlight “increased shoplifting,” “economy forces employees into theft,” and the like.

It’s not just theft and shrinkage that gets highlighted.  One industry website highlights how many people in our industry have been laid off and how many LP positions have been eliminated.  I’m sure it is not intended to sound gleeful, but that’s how it strikes me.  It reminds me of the way Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee at the time, got a lot of negative reaction to his almost celebratory attitude when bad news came out of Iraq during the early days of that conflict.

But, wait a minute.  There are lots of success stories happening in our industry despite the economy.  I’ve talked to a number of retail loss prevention executives who have come in with outstanding shrink results – some of them with all-time lows in their company.  Many other organizations have come in with reduced shrink dollars even though the percentage might be up due to 10, 20, or even 30% reductions in comp sales.  What about the NRSS results?  Keep in mind that 1.44% was an all-time low for the survey and the the 2008 figure of 1.52% is near the bottom of the range over the years Dr. Hollinger has been conducting the survey.

As for staffing and personnel issues, there is no doubt there have been reductions and position eliminations and it has had an impact on many of our colleagues.  Yes, some senior executive positions have been “eliminated” but some of those are through consolidations within the industry.  The good news is that there is some activity occurring within the industry, especially at the District and Regional positions and there are some great candidates out there hungry for the opportunity.

I’m not trying to be a Positive Polly here, but I do think we need to consider the face we present to the retail industry.  Do we want to play the part of Chicken Little or do we want to emphasize what we can and do contribute to our individual organizations and the retail industry as whole?