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Developing Strategies for a Security Program

3. As Strong as Its Weakest LinkThe Human Element
Laurie Sowd

Whether we work in a university art gallery, public library, science center, or research collection; whether we have in-house security employees, student gallery aides, campus police, or contract security; whether we rely on our collections staff and other employees to uphold security standards—the components of our security programs are basically the same: (1) staff, (2) technical systems, and (3) policies and procedures, with training tying these components together.

As the operations director at the Huntington Library. Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, my responsibilities include security, facilities, and risk management. I have come to believe that the risk management field too often fails to take into account the crucial human element. If we have not managed people, we have not managed risk. Although each element of our security program is critical, I will focus on people, the potential "weakest link."

Specifically, I will discuss training, motivation, and development (though there are many other components of the human element, or the "people" issue, including hiring, mentoring, counseling, and others). I may select qualified people who have good work ethics, but if they are bored, they will be weak links. I can have sophisticated technical systems, but if my staff members are not trained to monitor and respond to alarms appropriately, the systems are of minimal use. I may have the most beautifully crafted policies and procedures, handsomely bound, but if my staff cannot understand them and articulate what they are, why they exist, and how to implement them, then those policies and procedures are not worth the paper on which they are written.

So, how do we manage the people in our operations? How do we keep our employees attentive, aware, loyal, and acting as outstanding stewards of the institution's assets? And, how do we measure the success of our efforts to train and motivate our staff, as indicated by how well we serve our constituents?

Let us start by looking at what motivates those responsible for the security of the collections and what creates an attractive work environment and organizational culture. The United States @ Work 2000 study, initiated by Aon Consulting's Loyalty Institute, focuses on employee behaviors that define commitment. It identifies seven key ways by which companies can build employee loyalty: (1) enabling employees to fully develop their skills—with ongoing training to enhance their ability to feel competent and well prepared to do their jobs; (2) providing pay and benefits that truly meet employee needs (although compensation is beyond the scope of this discussion, I will address many intangible benefits we can provide our staff); (3) building a sense of spirit and pride—a sense of purpose, self-worth, and belief in the institution; (4) helping employees balance their personal needs and goals with job requirements—through social interaction, a sense of community, and belonging; (5) offering opportunities for personal growth; (6) giving to employees the same commitment we expect them to give to the organization—allowing them to take pride in the team and feel acknowledged as individual performers; and (7) demonstrating the importance of retaining employees.

To begin, we can encourage professional growth through ongoing training to enhance competence and preparedness to do a job. Management should make sure training is an ongoing process for all staff—not something that happens only during the first two weeks of employment. We should create opportunities for security officers and collections staff to share experiences. Huntington collections include art, rare books, manuscripts, ephemera, and plants, so sometimes it is difficult for security officers to recognize what objects and plants are actually collections material. Encouraging conversations between security officers and curators and conservators reaps benefits on both sides. Another factor is staff participation in volunteer and docent training. We should get officers involved in activities with volunteers. Not only does such interaction provide an opportunity to talk about issues related to collections safety and preservation, but it also raises the profile of the security function.

Some of the best career motivators come from added responsibility and opportunities for advancement. For example, ask a security officer to head a task force to look at vacation scheduling. Permit an officer to be responsible for a roll call—to select the topic, find appropriate materials, and present the topic or arrange for a guest speaker to do so. We can also identify and post a different training topic for each month, tying our selection of guest speakers and activities into the theme. For example, during "collections" month, discuss theft response, have a preparator talk about object mounts and review collections movement policies, have your facilities staff discuss temperature and humidity monitoring, and invite the public relations staff to discuss the scope of the collections from the point of view of institutional image.

We should consider a "formal" certification for completion of a set of programs. Programs could include videos to watch, one-on-one training with a supervisor, presentations by collections staff, and so on. Programs can be self-directed and should be based on an assessment of what competencies are important to the protection of the institution's assets. Recognize completion of the certification path by presenting the officer with a lapel pin to be worn on the uniform.

Do your officers understand how to move up in the organization? Do they know what skills are needed and how to acquire and demonstrate them? You might initiate a "mystery shopper" program with a sister institution. Have a new security officer observe officers at the other institution anonymously from the visitor's or scholar's perspective. Provide guidelines on what to look for in behavior and deportment, what to ask, and what to do. Debrief your officer on the way security officers behaved at the other institution. Discuss the skills that enhance performance.

In building spirit and pride and belief in the institution, we can encourage our staff to feel part of the mission in several ways. Staff members should understand the institution's mission and be able to articulate it. Do you have related mission statements for security and preservation? If not, how about developing such mission statements with your staff, to create focus and buy-in to the mission? The Huntington and Getty museums' security mission statements are such examples. At the Huntington,

Adhering to the highest ethical standards, the security department provides for the security and safety of the visitors and staff and protects and preserves the collections and other assets of The Huntington. We facilitate an enjoyable experience for all visitors and a pleasant work environment for staff. Acknowledging the theme of education in The Huntington's institutional mission statement, the security department recognizes its duty to inform and educate staff and visitors about security and safety issues in order to sustain and promote the continuing welfare of the institution and its collections. The department provides these services with diligence, efficiency, thrift and politeness. The administration of The Huntington supports and encourages the security department in its pursuit of the goals put forth in this mission statement.

The Getty's mission statement promises a commitment "To safeguard and protect the visitors, staff, collections, and facilities of the Getty through a combination of security and emergency procedures, technology, and trained personnel."

We must provide information about the institution to security officers to help create buy-in to the organization. Invite guest speakers to your roll calls or department meetings. Consider inviting those inside your institution, such as curators for exhibition previews, educators for new family programs, the president of the institution, and the public relations manager—as well as those outside the institution, such as the local fire chief or the construction foreman working on a project at your institution. Relay monthly attendance statistics, visitor and staff accident information, and updates on construction projects. Beware the attitude of the telecommunication's organization supervisor who said, "We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees."

The Ritz Carlton, in another example, emphasizes the positive power of words in dealing with clients. It is important to view both visitors and staff as key clients. What impression do you get when you hear that "Our policy is . . ." versus what you feel when told, "I apologize for the inconvenience?" How about, "I am not allowed to . . .," versus "How can I help?" Keep in mind what words say about the department's philosophy toward dealing with its many clients.

Balancing personal needs with job requirements—to build social interaction and a sense of community and belonging—starts with the fact that "All work is social—a fact of work life that people ignore at their peril." So says Lois P. Frankel, a business coach and senior partner at Corporate Coaching International in Los Angeles, California. "Establishing good working relationships can help us secure the cooperation of the people we need to accomplish our tasks. If we delay building good relationships until we really need them, it will be too late." Some of her favorite techniques include dropping into someone's office once a day for a ten-minute talk or greeting security officers by the timeclock for a chat about their families or vacation plans. Casual conversation helps build friendly relationships that can withstand stress. When people talk to you, listen—put everything else on hold. Begin conversations with small talk—so people know you care about them, not just their work.

We should acknowledge that our staff members have private lives. Consider rewards that appeal to a staff member's leisure time activities—movie tickets or restaurant gift certificates. Sometimes sending a card to the staff member's significant other is appropriate. Do not be the shipping executive who asked an employee to reschedule her sister's funeral to a day that "would be better for me."

Whenever possible, schedule all-staff activities at a time when officers can attend—right before their reporting time, for example. Otherwise, consider rotating attendance—free up two officers this time, two different officers next time.

To create opportunities for personal growth—another important element in staff engagement—we should strive to make the work more interesting. A career as a security officer may very well seem inherently boring. To fight that, try rotating posts through and within buildings. Rotations can occur within a single day, day to day, week to week, or even less frequently, but give people something different to look at and a way to fight the tendency to become immune to their surroundings. As an added benefit, new eyes looking at the same area may result in suggestions for improvements.

If you have regular meetings or roll calls, hold some of them "in the field," at construction sites, exhibit installations, or tricky access points. During training sessions or roll calls, get out the grab bag. Have your security officers write down questions they are most frequently asked. Take other questions from complaints or suggestions on comment cards, the communications or public relations department, receptionists, and visitor surveys. Write a single question on each slip of paper, creating as many slips as you want and putting them into the grab bag. During training sessions, have a security officer draw, read, and respond to the question, and then follow with a helpful critique from you and from officers present. Instead of slips of paper, the Getty uses laminated flash cards, color-coded by topic, that can be used by supervisors with officers, or as self-study aids. The flash cards can be used for training exercises that test the officer's knowledge of steps to take in a specified situation.

Role-playing, too, can be a useful training device. Develop and stage brief scenarios (thirty seconds to two minutes) relevant to your environment. Use your enthusiastic problem-solvers (your security officers, volunteers, or others) to create scenarios and to perform in them. For example, pretend a visitor tries to take a flash photograph in the manuscripts gallery. Create a situation in which everyone wins—where the security officer stops the visitor from taking flash photographs, but the visitor retains his or her dignity and good feelings about the organization. Focus on the "win-win" scenario, but show "losing" scenarios, too. Consider videotaping sessions for future use.

To keep hourly employees engaged and alert, it may help to rotate staff members to other departments for a half-day. Have a security officer spend some time in the stacks, and rotate a collections staff member from the stacks to a bag checkpoint.

A scavenger hunt can be a fun, effective, and quick way to ensure that security officers remain knowledgeable. One natural area to focus on is the location of visitor-service-related subjects, particularly for new staff orientation: where visitors can fill out comment cards; where the X exhibition is; where restrooms and drinking fountains are located; where Y special painting is located; where to go for information on Z; and so on. Have security officers retrieve a marker from each location to prove they found the right destination. Or, scavenger hunts can focus on the location of fire extinguishers, emergency exits, or water leak response kits.

We need to find ways to give to employees the same commitment we expect them to give to the organization—an ability to take pride in the team and also feel acknowledged as individual performers. In the Denver Museum of Natural History's customer service department, staff members found that their services were well rated by visitors, providing them an opportunity to take pride in the team. As a result, the staff decided to aim higher, to put a fine polish on those services by improving staff morale and job satisfaction, focusing on the individual performer. The underlying assumption that happier people are more effective and make better representatives for our institutions works from a security perspective. Staff members who enjoy their work and take pride in it make more invested and alert guardians of the collections. The museums efforts included involving staff members in crafting their own job descriptions and evaluation criteria and in providing more frequent, informal evaluations of those staff members.

It is important to find opportunities for public recognition through staff newsletters, roll calls, and department meetings. The "Practical Supervision" newsletter from Professional Training Associates recommends starting each week with a list of your employees. As soon as you notice an employee doing something that merits recognition, make a note beside the person's name. Add a big check mark as soon as you congratulate the person for his or her accomplishment, something that should be done right away. Pay special attention to people who still do not have a check mark by Thursday, and find a contribution to recognize.

The Science Place in Dallas, Texas, launched a "Wow!" program. When a staff member goes above and beyond the call of duty, the person who recognizes the achievement gives the staff member a coupon redeemable for small prizes and an employee-of-the-month recognition (provided through the organization). Both the recipient and the giver are appreciated for values honored by the organization: innovative ideas, creative problem solving, honoring of cultural diversity, superb communication, and so on. Likewise, the "Shining Star" program at the Shedd Aquarium provides a pin and recognition breakfast for high achievers.

If your security officers already wear name badges, add an indication if they are bilingual (e.g., "Officer Jones, Yo hablo Espanol"). The officer is proud of his or her extra capabilities, the staff recognizes that special skill, and visitors receive appropriate assistance. Other ways to emphasize staff teamwork include taking an annual department photograph to post or to distribute to other staff online; providing opportunities for a public round of applause, such as at staff holiday lunches, all-staff meetings, and department meetings; and asking people what rewards are meaningful to them. Go straight to the source to find out what motivates your staff members.

It is also important to show commitment to retaining employees by communicating that the institution values high-achieving employees. Assess staff turnover to see how successfully you are retaining those staff members. Does the rate of preventable terminations exceed that of other departments or the institution as a whole? Does it exceed last year's figures? Does it exceed an industry benchmark?

We have looked at ways to keep our staff motivated and attentive. Now, how do we know whether our efforts are paying off? How do we measure success in meeting our organization's objectives through an invigorated staff? At the Huntington, the security manager and I jointly determined who the security department serves and what those constituents want. We then crafted some basic security objectives—the fundamental responsibilities of the security function—and agreed on ways to measure progress against these objectives. We developed five broad objectives for our security organization and established ways to measure our success:

(1) The Huntington experiences no collections, buildings, or property damage or loss that reasonably could have been anticipated or mitigated by security actions. This is measured by loss experience.

(2) Huntington staff members—and also readers, volunteers, and others—perceive that the security department adds value to their work life and work environment. Added value is measured by discussions with staff members or surveys of staff attitudes, reports to the safety log, and incident reports. Elements here include the following:

  • Staff members feel safe and secure at work.

  • Staff members receive appropriate and reasonable assistance from security officers, consistently and promptly.

  • Staff members perceive that security-related policies and procedures are reasonable and fair.

  • Staff members perceive that the security of the institution is rigorous and appropriate for the people and property protected.

(3) Huntington visitors perceive that the security department adds value to their visit. Visitor reactions are measured by discussions or surveys with visitors, and by comment cards. We want to determine that:

  • visitors feel safe and secure on the property;

  • visitors feel welcome; and

  • visitors receive accurate and helpful information from security officers.

(4) Senior management of the Huntington perceives that the security department is efficiently, effectively, and credibly led by security management staff. Leadership is measured by turnover and retention ratios, through observation of the general ledgers on a quarterly basis, and through discussions with principal security officers. Our goals are to ensure that:

  • High-achieving security officers are retained.

  • The combined operating and salary budget in the security department is consistently within 1 percent of the budgeted bottom line.

  • Senior management perceives that it is valuable to involve security officers in discussions, problem-solving, and response to emergency situations.

  • Senior management can see that the security department handles both day-to-day operations and special programs—such as exhibits, events, and lectures—with a high degree of professionalism.

(5) Security officers perceive that the Huntington adds value to their lives and that they in turn add value to the organization. Such staff perceptions can be measured by discussions or surveys with security officers. We expect our discussions to reveal the following:

  • Security officers feel they are well trained. They clearly understand and can articulate their job responsibilities.

  • Security officers feel they have opportunities for growth.

  • Security officers feel they contribute to the organization and are respected and appreciated for that contribution.

In our discussion, we have not yet used one key word—judgment. We build employee commitment through training and organizational philosophy so staff members understand what is expected of them and why. Then, we must let our employees exercise judgment within those parameters. This is crucial—"the institution has trained you well and trusts you to act in its best interest." The effort to strengthen the human element of our security programs can never ebb. It must be our constant mantra, for people can easily be our greatest asset, rather than our weakest link.

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   September 15, 2008
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