‘Mastery’, ‘Autonomy’ and ‘Purpose’: Motivation in the Private Security Industry

Louise McCree

Louise McCree

As Louise McCree correctly points out, security team members are responsible for continuing to keep the places we visit safe and secure. They’re required to remain vigilant and are accountable if a breach should occur. In addition, a number of security staff work long hours and anti-social shifts, while some have to continue to perform their duties in more challenging conditions.

The perception among many is that security jobs can be monotonous and uninspiring. In addition, there’s a feeling that they may fail to stretch the innovative and creative skills people may possess.  there’s an argument to suggest that the industry doesn’t place enough emphasis on motivation. Indeed, even if there was a will to do so, how would the industry go about realising this ambition?

With all of that firmly in mind, there should be a determined focus on improving the motivation of the people resident within security businesses. They’re valuable to their organisations, not to mention national security, and play a crucial role in reconnaissance. Maybe it’s time for a change in emphasis, then?

Dan Pink, an author who specialises in work, management and behavioural science, has delivered a great Ted Talk on the puzzle of motivation, stating that the three key areas to focus on are ‘Mastery’, ‘Autonomy’ and ‘Purpose’. Applying this to security, ‘Mastery’ would relate to the extent to which someone feels competent in their role and their ability to improve and extend their skills. ‘Autonomy’ is the extent to which the employee feels responsible for their role and also their own day-to-day activities. Last, but not least, ‘Purpose’ would be the extent to which they understand and believe that they’re contributing towards an overall goal or are part of a bigger picture.

Pink’s own view on the matter is that businesses have – and for some time now – failed to correctly identify how to best motivate their people and, as a result, they’ve ended up unwittingly reducing motivation and, as such productivity, making performance worse.

Focus on ‘Autonomy’ and ‘Mastery’

Looking at ‘Autonomy’, we need to consider the extent to which an employee feels that they have control over their role, their duties and business decisions. Allowing them to be part of bigger business decisions which affect them is a great start. Consider using staff forums and think about how you can improve communication channels. Employees need to understand how they can make suggestions, but also how their role impacts and affects the rest of the business.

In addition, it’s really important that, in order to do their job well, your employees have the right tools to do the job, so you will need to ensure that they have the right resources including things like software, uniform, stationery, IT and radios, etc. Creating awareness of the part your staff play in the overall company goals should also not be underestimated. If possible, give them responsibility for another member of staff, even an apprentice or a temp so that they can begin to gain some management experience and assert their influence on the wider organisation. Listening is absolutely crucial in improving how motivated your people are. They need to tell you in what areas they would like to have more autonomy and what that looks like to them.

‘Mastery’ could be improved by setting up a clear career pathway and progression plan so that those who do wish to progress know this is possible and how to do so. Job sharing is also important as it will provide staff with exposure to different areas of the business in which they may have an interest. Consider what training you can offer and how that will be delivered. This will allow staff to feel valued and developed and enable them to improve their skills and progress within the organisation.

Clear direction within their role, clarity around instructions, a structured framework and inspiring leadership will also help to create a culture of ‘Mastery’ in which staff want to do their best and strive to develop themselves. Remember to start on the right foot by ensuring that you have a robust induction programme in place which all employees have the opportunity to participate in.

Sharing success stories

In order to foster an environment in which your employees feel a sense of ‘Purpose’, you may want to share success stories of those who have started at the bottom and worked their way up. This can be done via newsletters, company awards or e-mail communications. Role models can be extremely powerful and demonstrate that a business isn’t just about jobs, but that it’s also about careers. Give regular feedback and praise for jobs that are done well in order to keep employees on track and engaged.

According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup, only two in every ten employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. The implication of this is that employees can be motivated by the way in which they’re managed. The reverse is also true. If you are micro-managing staff, stifling them and not allowing them any freedom then, as a result, they will become demotivated.

There are numerous benefits of reviewing your approach to motivation, not least that productivity and performance will increase. Also, and more importantly, security levels will be improved. Vigilant and motivated security professionals will be more likely to form part of an effective defence against hostile individuals and act as a strong deterrent. Happy, motivated and fulfilled employees are also less likely to leave and, as such, turnover will reduce, thus saving money on recruitment and training. Motivated staff are also a great way of promoting the employer brand. They’re a great advert for a responsible employer who does things well. Well-being will also increase among your staff which will mean less absenteeism.

Any employers wishing to tackle levels of motivation would be best to start doing so by measuring their current levels of motivation. There are various methods of doing this and, although they can be time consuming, they’re worthwhile. A business needs to invest the time and resources into a project in order to see the benefits. For example, an employee engagement survey would help to identify the key areas which employees feel are working well and those which need addressing and improvement.

Taking ownership of motivation

It’s true that employees also need to take some ownership of their own motivation, but employers can assist with this by facilitating a discussion about how satisfied an employee is, and more importantly whether they’re in the right role. This leads back to your recruitment process and the extent to which you can ensure that you are hiring the right people for the job. Do their personalities, skill sets, experience and career aspirations match those of the job for which they are applying? If the match isn’t a good one then it’s likely there will always be issues.

If, however they are the right person for the role, but motivation has been low, then this situation can more than likely be addressed. The following pointers may assist:

*As much as possible, encourage the employee to identify things that they’ve achieved at the end of every week or month and keep a list of their achievements and accomplishments

*Suggest that they make a list of all the tasks that they do (or could do) that would directly impact the business. The significance and impact of the individual tasks that they undertake will make a difference to their level of motivation

*Think about whether it would be possible for employees to conduct different tasks each day and, as much as possible, encourage them to switch between tasks after two or three hours to try to retain some interest and flexibility

*Tell your employees to ask for feedback. This might be from clients, colleagues or you. Most people wait to be told and, if it doesn’t come, then assume that the project they were working on or the job that they did wasn’t noticed or appreciated. Often, this isn’t the case

*Support your team in taking ownership of their role, suggest more responsibility and tell them not to be afraid to ask for what they want. A lack of communication is one of the biggest barriers to most challenges that organisations face in this day and age

Senior leadership on board

As is the case with all HR-focused initiatives, senior leadership must be on board with any motivation reviews and programmes that you plan to run. This message is then much more likely to be successfully cascaded.

Motivation cannot and will not change immediately and everyone involved needs to be realistic about this. For some, deeply embedded motivation issues cultural change may take several months, but the rewards are always worth it.

Louise McCree is Founder of effectivehr

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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