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The Security Institute’s View

by Brian Sims

The development of security staff has always been a challenge. There are many contributing factors to this, such as staff turnover, cost, quality of entry level staff or lack of return on investment. What, then, is the best way forward? Tony O’Brien examines a model wherein Mindset + Training + Application = Development.

In many of today’s organisations, it’s my considered belief that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what people development really means. As an industry, we tend to focus on training security staff in order to develop them, but is that really enough? The truth of the matter is that we can never truly develop other people. All we can do is give our people the trust, resources and support to develop themselves.

The evolution of the term ‘training and development professional’ or ‘learning and development professional’ from HR functions has contributed to a misconception that training/learning = development. This is simply not the case. It’s a myth that has contributed to many wasted investments in training over the years. Training is an integral part of development, but there are other equally important pieces of the puzzle. My development model is as follows: Mindset + Training + Application = Development.

One without the other two is a wasted investment. If we develop a person’s mindset, but don’t provide training, then frustration builds, leading to staff turnover. If we deliver training to those with a poor mindset, we have simply wasted investment in training. If we deliver the right training to people with the correct mindset, but then don’t allow them to apply it, it’s fair to say we’ve once again wasted our investment and trained staff for the benefit of their next employer.

Developing mindset

This is the base of the pyramid. Delivering training to personnel who are either not capable of accepting it or unwilling to do so is pointless. Nurturing the mindset of a profession not a job is the absolute starting position for people development.

We all have a role to play here as security business sector leaders. From training providers who offer ‘jobs on completion’ to companies who advertise ‘security jobs’, if that’s the calibre of staff you advertise for then that’s what you’ll end up with. Security operatives need to feel like they’re entering a profession from the first contact. That’s where we start building security professionals.

I once managed a security team for a large, high-profile hotel. I insisted on every report beginning with the same line: ‘My name is xxxx and I am a security professional employed by ABC Hotel to safeguard its guests and property’. On several occasions, the management commented that the standard of reporting had risen quite markedly since the documents began to be completed in this way.

This was for two reasons. First, the mindset change that happens when you start with a line like that means you must follow with a report of the same quality. Second, the reporting had improved, but so had the first impression of the reader which doubled the effect. I recount that story to show the positive effect that a small action to instil professional habits can have in the real world. Without professional habits, the delivery of training serves no purpose.

Training perspectives

While training isn’t the only element of people development, when done correctly it can form a key element of development. Training decisions based on cost or shortest timeframe rarely deliver an effective level of development to learners. The training should align with the Security Department’s own specific goals and objectives and consider actual issues faced on the ground by learners.

This is just the start, though. To attain a truly high level we must understand the meaning of education. The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin term ‘educo’ which means to draw out or raise up. Training is never just about what the trainer can deliver in terms of knowledge. It’s about what the learner can draw from that knowledge and the level of performance the trainer can draw from the learner.

The achievement of knowledge and skill to a competent level doesn’t necessarily imply the development of a person in their role. It’s at that juncture when learners can relate their training to prior experience and apply the new knowledge and skills in order to problem solve existing and new issues that they really begin to develop.

Poor training experience is never the fault of the learner. In my experience, it can almost always be attributed to the organisation and the training provider not putting in the work to deliver an effective training experience for the learner. In organisational terms, it can be the purchase of one-size-fits-all, cost-effective training solutions which tick a box, but don’t necessarily provide development. From a training provider’s perspective, it’s the delivery of a programme of learning not designed to meet the actual needs of the people present in the training room.

Another factor to consider is the type of training delivered. Focusing on technical training certainly has its benefits, but let’s not forget about behavioural subjects. From the basic induction level, behavioural training is essential. It moulds habits and builds a personal foundation upon which technical skills can be built. Training in specialist areas like counter-terrorism may look exciting, but unless coupled with effective communication or stress management this may not be effective.

Application stages

This is where the magic happens. Allowing professionals who are trained to a high standard to apply that training in the real world is what creates real development.

One useful post-training practice I’ve witnessed on occasion is the use of a debrief document with a line manager. This document starts with the usual evaluation questions on what would you keep/change/remove from the training for future courses, etc. It then moves on to several key questions such as: ‘Outline two ways in which you will now apply this training in your role’ or ‘Describe two ways in which the organisation can use this training to improve our systems’.

Based on the feedback, it’s up to the management team to resource the newly-developed security team in order to enable its constituent members to apply positively what they’ve learned. Viewing training such as manual handling, Health and Safety and fire safety, etc as compliance requirements and mandatory training does nothing to instil a positive attitude towards using it to develop the team. Applying this training to the benefit of the organisation and the individual is what creates development.

We must also acknowledge the truism that not everybody is going to be a ‘rock star’. There will inevitably be some individuals who barely make the grade at an operational level whether that’s front line, supervisory or management. We still have a role to play in developing these people. They may never want or be able to become a ‘rock star’, but they can always make themselves better.

There are no lost causes in developing people because people can always be made better. If we can take a non-performer and make them a little better each day then that’s still people development. If we discard them, we discard the principle of development.

We can only draw out the performance that the person is capable of delivering and willing to deliver. However, based on the starting point of rock bottom, these employees will perhaps have developed more by attaining a working standard than the ‘rock star’ has actually done in excelling.

People, not programmes

When individuals are given the freedom to apply new skills and knowledge we see them truly develop as professionals. That’s the goal of people development: to make a person the best person they can be during their time with the host organisation and into the future.

Regardless of the starting point or the finishing point, if we’ve made a person better we have developed them both as an employee and an individual. There will be some who will never be superstars, but can still improve.

As security managers and leaders, it’s our role to make everybody – the superstars and the not-so-superstars – that little bit better every day. This is true people development and, at the end of the day, it’s what makes the security industry both grow and develop.

Tony O’Brien is Managing Director of The Security Operative Training Services

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