Ask the next uniformed security supervisor that you encounter about his or her developmental supervisory training experiences. You may get a blank stare in return.
Despite the absolutely critical role that site supervisors play on both contract and proprietary security teams, they frequently rise through the ranks as dependable employees. Rarely are they selected, groomed in advance, and developed through structured training.
After 25 years of managing a family-owned regional security firm, I knew that supervisory training was still in short supply. To break out of this mold, we developed a biannual training program to ensure that our site supervisors knew what was expected of them and what they should expect from the job.
Developing and implementing this program, however, was not always easy. Following is a case study on the training program, and the various challenges faced along the way. Also included is a breakdown of training session logistics, a summary of course content, and final takeaways.
While working in a business development role several years ago, I completed yet another week of meetings in which frustrated prospects conveyed their dissatisfaction with how their site supervisor—a cherished and vital employee—was “not being supported.” The situation they described was one I had heard many times before—disappointment with their current security vendor because of a lack of support and development for the site supervisor.
For the client, the solution was simple enough: find a company that supports its supervisory team. In the next managerial meeting, I asked the company’s president, general manager, assistant general manager, training director, and HR manager the following question: “How can we best support our site supervisors?”
The white board at the end of that first meeting on the topic was filled with honest questions about our site supervisory team, such as “Why do we assume they know how to properly schedule people?” “What leadership skills should they possess, and what if they don’t have them?” “Do they truly know HR’s expectations for disciplinary actions?” and “What is the best method for communicating with management when the support system has failed?”
We strove to be as honest as possible, and so the answers were often damning and full of assumptions about what we hoped had been communicated. Some attendees responded with defensive statements, such as “Isn’t the account manager doing a briefing on these issues?” and “They do have the employment handbook as a guide.”
In the end, the group was forced to admit that because too many of the supervisor’s duties involved “winging it,” being the best and the brightest was insufficient.
The team began to piece together a framework for a new group training session, to be held biannually. The framework included basic tenets about proper scheduling procedures, baseline knowledge about labor law, and information on recognizing and reporting harassment. The program was dubbed L-3 Training, because L-3 is our company’s designation for a security officer who leads, trains, schedules, verbally disciplines, and has veto power over staff assigned to their site.
We faced various challenges when we started planning the first training event. First, we had to decide which location would work best for the largest number of supervisors.
Second, we had to determine what training time would make the most sense. Holding it after hours raised the possibility that trainees would be tired from having already worked an entire shift. But we thought holding it during regular shift hours might turn into an operational nightmare; account managers would have to find alternative supervisory coverage for every site with a supervisor.
Third, there were financial factors involved. We would have to absorb the cost of pulling many well-compensated supervisors into a single room for nonbillable time. Once they were all together, it seemed likely that some supervisors would discuss their individual worksites, and even compensation, with each other. This, we thought, could lead to a supervisor’s demoralizing discovery that he or she is not earning as much as the client across town is willing to pay, for a job with the same responsibilities.
However, we also realized that these types of challenges can lead organizations to give up on a training program before it begins–a key reason why such training turns out to be fairly rare. So we came up with solutions to these challenges that were simple, but seemed to work well for the entire team.
For the location, we secured a space near the administrative office, since that office was considered the central hub of employment with the firm.
We decided that it was best for the training to be held during the middle of the day, not after shifts were over. This meant that the supervisors would keep their 40-hour workweeks and still be paid for a full 40 hours (with training accounting for a portion of that time), and not stay later for training. We hoped that this communicated respect for the supervisors. Overall, these positives outweighed the logistical inconveniences that midday training would entail.
As far as the cost, we adopted the premise that it is always less expensive to spend a few dollars and keep a client then save a few dollars and lose one. Thus, it would be ultimately worth it to the organization to absorb the cost of the program.
We quickly realized that thoughtful planning did not make our program error-proof, and we had to grapple with our share of logistical hazards. The hotel conference room booked for the training turned out to be too small. The parking garage was overfilled. The meal break was marred by cold pizza, delivered 45 minutes late.
During the training sessions themselves, we occasionally came close to death by PowerPoint, as a few speakers droned on and on about mundane subjects. Once, we failed to schedule a training session because the firm had so much new business to attend to.
These problems led to several lessons learned. Instead of simply looking up the dimensions of the proposed room, it is important to visit it beforehand and envision it in the configuration you plan to use, to make sure it is the right fit. Sampling the proposed food to be served and checking reviews of the restaurant provider may minimize food and drink challenges.
We also learned one overriding lesson—the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the event, even some of the smaller details, are in many ways just as important as the subject matter. And so, assigning detail-oriented staffers to manage the training, delegating specific tasks, and meeting several times in advance to “walk though” the event can streamline everything, and smooth out rough edges.
Despite the challenges, we persisted, and our commitment to site supervisor training has been rewarded. The feedback from site supervisors has been positive, and our clients truly appreciate that the people they work with every day are recognized and supported.
TRAINING SESSION SUBJECTS
The training session, including breaks, lunch, and all presentations and discussion, lasts three hours. The session starts with an introduction and thanks given by the highest-level company official available to participate. Next is a 10-minute overview of the company’s mission, vision, values, ethical expectations, accomplishments, and how it differentiates itself in the marketplace. We have found there is engagement value when an executive not only welcomes everyone, but also advocates for the work of the organization.
The executive then invites the attending site supervisors to introduce themselves, to include name, rank, what site or sites they supervise, length of time in the position, any unusual duties or responsibilities at the site, and what they did prior to their current role.
After these remarks, coverage of the main subject areas begins. In our training session this includes leadership, customer service, communication, emergency preparedness, human resources, and supervisory duties.
Leadership. In the last few decades, various studies out of Harvard Business School on the subject of employment and engagement have issued different variations of the following finding: what matters most to employees is how they feel about their immediate supervisor. Love them or hate them, this view is crucial in defining performance.
This finding can be used as a valuable teaching tool—an opportunity to illustrate the crucial role each site supervisor plays in the stability and performance of the workforce. It also can be used to emphasize that supervision and management are not about privileges, but about professional responsibility.
Customer service. Reiterating the components of strong customer service is always valuable, even for the most accomplished supervisors, because it further reinforces their professionalism. Reminders about the importance of first impressions, listening, and seeing issues from the client’s perspective reinforce this important aspect of their roles. Additionally, speakers in this section should remind the supervisors to impress these standards on their security officer team.
Communication. Subject matter in this area includes the importance of maintaining the continuous flow of information between the site supervisor and account manager; how to determine the method to be used for this communication, and how to automate it; and ensuring that supervisors regularly communicate to their team members in an effective manner. All these components are key to good site relations.
Finally, it is important to make clear exactly what a supervisor is supposed to do when something goes unaddressed by their employer. Examples include an unanswered payroll questions or an unaddressed uniform need. This module contains procedures and contact information.
Emergency preparedness. The term emergency preparedness may conjure up images of hurricanes, tornados, and flash floods. But in private security, emergencies often occur at a much more individual level. For example, each of these events, and many others, were handled by security professionals on our staff since the last L-3 Training:
- An officer observed a fleeing burglary suspect and advised the pursuing police.
- An officer located potentially catastrophic leaks during a rainstorm, and made a 4:17 a.m. phone call to the facilities department.
- An officer talked suicidal individuals off a garage ledge.
- An officer identified an electrical short in a fountain strong enough to severely injure or kill someone.
- An officer recognized a client’s employee from a crime alert.
- An officer responded to a person in cardiac arrest and provided them CPR.
Reminding site supervisors about what can go wrong puts them in a proactive position to prepare their staff members for such events. Site supervisors are instructed to examine the most likely emergencies and hazards at their site and collaborate with the client on developing plans should one not already exist. A methodology for creating an Emergency Action Plan is provided.
Human resources. This essential topic is easily overdone. Suggestions for increasing information retention include observing strict time limits, choosing a dynamic presenter, and ensuring that the presenter is prepared.
The employee handbook should reinforce everything the presenter is saying and any on-duty supervisor who needs clarification should contact HR immediately. In fact, that should be the critical takeaway from this section—call HR early and often. Site supervisors should be made comfortable seeking out advice from HR. Not doing so is where a snowballing problem first starts.
Supervisory duties. Despite scheduling’s crucial role in successfully performing supervisory duties, it is often assumed that anyone can figure out and do these tasks. This is a mistaken assumption. Clearly defining responsibilities in training can prevent misunderstandings that can lead to disgruntled supervisors and officers.
Questions that should be addressed here include: Who will be preparing the weekly schedule? How will changes be conveyed to payroll and for the invoice? When is overtime a company issue and when might it be a client issue? Who takes calls from absent officers and how do they denote the time spent doing so on their timesheet, if it is their responsibility?
Site supervisors need to know who can answer questions such as: “How much vacation time do I have on the books?” or “What if my New Year’s Eve shift starts at 11:45 p.m. but I work 7 hours and 45 minutes on the actual holiday—do I get holiday pay?” When officers have a payroll question, who should the supervisor contact, how should they contact them, and when should they expect an answer? Also important, what should supervisors do if they get no response or cannot reach anyone? Have goals about what you want to convey and stick to them.
Below are a few final takeaways, based on numerous site supervisor training sessions.
Personalizing the event enhances the chances for success. For example, our winter session includes presenting supervisors with their company holiday presents, as well as gifts for the officers they supervise, which they are entrusted to present back at their sites.
Whenever possible, invite experienced site supervisors (and former participants of the training program) to teach as many of the sessions as possible. In our last program, all subjects other than human resources and scheduling, payroll, and invoicing were taught by site supervisors.
Conduct anonymous polling at the end of the event. The absolute honesty of anonymity allows for continuous improvement. Occasionally, some commenters will identify themselves; my favorite evaluation survey response had the following scribbled on the bottom of the form: “I, Lt. Lawson, would like to be a guest speaker during the next training session...”
Chris Stuart is the vice president of business development for Top Guard Security. He serves on the ASIS International Leadership and Management Practices Council and the Security Services Council. He is the Past President of the Virginia Security Association and has been employed in the uniformed private security industry since 1988.