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Illustration by Security Management; iStock

The Milestones in the Marathon

Being a leader sometimes feels like climbing hills. As you crest the peak of the hill, the explorer in you wonders what you will find. You are regularly rewarded with the sight of yet another hill. It is easy for leaders to feel like there is no peak, no finish line. They finish one task only to look up and see a pile of other tasks stacked high spilling across the desk.

Recently a supervisory staff member expressed his frustration to the author, feeling that he could never get ahead. Projects were falling behind as incidents on-site required his response, staff coaching kept interrupting his day, and new projects seemed to be never-ending.

This happens to all leaders, but what can they do about it? Never crossing any sort of finish line is mentally exhausting and demoralizing, but defining those lines in the first place can be tough. Some professions lend themselves to tangible accomplishments, like when a carpenter stands back at the end of the day to admire the new deck he built or how rewarding it must feel for an electrician when she flicks the switch and watches all the new fixtures in a warehouse light up. But on the other hand, security leaders can often feel like every time they get close to the finish line, it moves or completely disappears as a new threat emerges or corporate requirements change.

A security manager may finally finish the big project, coach an employee to success, or deal with an employee who is struggling, but before she really has time to celebrate, there is something else just as challenging or more challenging ahead.

“Fail to plan, plan to fail” is how the saying goes, and it applies to more than emergency preparedness. When you do not know where you are going, it is easy to feel like you never get ahead. Mapping your journey can help.

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Accepting Delays

As a junior leader, the author would often stay late or even take things home after work. Working well into the evening he would convince himself if he could only get this project done it would free up his time to work on the next big thing. That just never seemed to be the result.

When you sit down at your desk in the morning, do you ever look around and feel overwhelmed by all the piles of paper and project lists? Each week you begin by trying to figure out what is the most important thing you should work on and realize everything is important. You make a list and assure yourself you can get it all done by the last day of your work week.

Throughout the week, new projects materialize, and employees bring issues to you or suggestions that could be implemented to make things better. At the end of the week, you sit back and realize that—although you completed a few things—you did not complete everything you had planned. In fact, your list managed to get longer.

Consider a long hike toward a mountain. The hikers may have prepared by bringing food, sufficient water, and supplies. But after hours of traversing substantial rolling foothills, the hikers still had not reached the base of the mountain, and clouds were quickly rolling in, promising snow flurries.

One of the hikers suggested they turn back. Despite their disappointment, they reminded themselves that the mountain would still be there the next weekend. When they hiked the trail again, they took a more efficient route, reached the mountain, and scaled the peak—taking time to look back and admire the path they had trekked and the challenges they overcame to reach their goal.

In this case, the hikers determined that attempting to achieve their goal a second time was worthwhile. But sometimes delays uncover different priorities instead, making it worthwhile to change course.

Creating Your Finish Line

With so many challenges ahead, it can be difficult to stop and recognize the accomplishment at the given moment. Security leaders need to take their challenges one hill at a time. Identify a finish line and work to achieve the goal before resetting. A scheduled time to review goals and finish lines is critical to adapting and moving forward.

Conditions may change, forcing you to re-evaluate the plan. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of a major storm rolling in, forcing businesses to re-evaluate priorities. Perhaps your team had a defined focus entering 2021, but the pandemic didn’t end. Instead, it created new challenges, such as staffing shortages or determining how to carry out an in-class security training plan while adhering to social distancing restrictions.

Stopping to plan an approach can seem like wasted time when there are many things to be done, but a planned and documented approach will help you recognize wins and make you a more productive and focused leader. The security leader gains nothing by dwelling on planned items that had to be set aside to deal with the new priorities. If the original goals continue to be important, they can be revisited in future planning.

Security professionals do not have the luxury of gazing for too long across a finished construction project to recognize a win. Creating finish lines, sharing them, and celebrating them is good for security leaders and their teams. It helps drive home that they are moving forward and improving. There are many ways to do this, but some of the most effective include a long-term plan with action lists, a regular reporting rhythm, and scheduled celebrations.

Strategic Management Plan

You must have a plan for the long-term if you hope to define finish lines and cross them. Depending on the level of leadership, that may mean a plan for the week, month, year, or multiple years. At the senior management level, a three-year strategic management plan will help guide you and the security service over a manageable amount of time. It is not good enough to just strategize; you also need to ensure there is an action plan with timelines and a responsible project lead assigned. This will be the how-to guide that will clearly define the direction forward for the entire team.

Creating a useful strategic management plan will take time. The creation of a useable strategic management plan takes uninterrupted analysis, creativity, and research, and it must involve as many members of the team as possible. Before you get started, know that creating a plan like this will be invaluable, but it will take months. The key is to set a schedule and work steadily toward the completion of the plan.

When developing a strategic management plan, it can behoove security leaders to focus on a few key elements.

Clarifying the vision, mission statement, and core values. If the values, vision, and mission are communicated regularly, this will help define the culture of the team. When communicated to upper management, shared with the security team, and embedded in training and regular communication, these values will ensure everyone is moving in the desired direction, able to make decisions that support the overall vision.

Identify the themes or core elements of the program. These should clearly identify why the program exists. What are the core elements that the security service is there to deliver on? When developing the core elements of the program, the security leader can utilize the ASIS Enterprise Security Risk Management Guideline. Understanding the operating environment, along with the overarching objectives of the stakeholders is critical. The program core elements might include fire and life safety, emergency preparedness, physical security, technology, risk management, staffing competency and growth, and service excellence.

Detail each core element. Explain why the core element is important to the security program, what opportunities exist for improvement, and the specific objectives that will address the gaps. Perhaps within the core element of physical security the stakeholders have expressed interest in improving the existing paper sign-in logs at the loading dock. The property manager is interested in registration efficiency, reducing the storage costs and environmental impact of the paper logs, and improving the ability to perform timely audits during investigations.

As the strategic partner and trusted advisor, the security manager can now start to develop a plan to move this opportunity forward. Once the stakeholders agree on the path forward, the next step is to detail the project in the action plan, assigning milestones and project leads.

Enact an action plan. This is the working project plan. Reviewing all the objectives at once can be overwhelming. Finding a rhythm that works for the leader and the security team is crucial, such as breaking the plan into quarters for the first year, followed annual blocks for the second and third years. Just focusing on the current quarter and planning for the upcoming quarter creates digestible chunks. It also helps security professionals communicate in the language of business and connect more effectively with other stakeholders. Find out what rhythms your organization uses and align with those.

Project Meetings

Once the strategic management plan has been completed and shared with upper management, security leaders need to use it. Often, these plans gather dust on a shelf, never to be seen or heard of again. Consider embedding the action plan list in regular supervisory meetings. If supervisory staff have projects within the plan, they should be held accountable and be expected to report out on progress.

Designing project meetings around the action plan while following a rhythm that works for the security team helps communicate the importance of the plan and how each member of the team contributes.

Updating the action plan list regularly to show completed items helps everyone recognize and appreciate finish lines. If there are action items falling behind, the entire team can come together and work to move the project forward. When the projects are complete, flag them as finished and leave them on the list as a reminder of the team’s accomplishments.

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Monthly Reports

Well-crafted monthly reports provided to upper management help show the value of the security program and how it is being improved. Security often struggles to show return on investment. With defined milestones, the security leader can see, promote, and celebrate the wins. If the core themes have been effectively defined, security leaders should be reporting to management when they have made improvements or completed projects.

Before preparing a report to tell management what you think they need to know, ask them what they want or need to know. Perhaps there is information that the management team, corporate office, or insurance company requires or values, such as a summary of the security incidents of note, staff rewards and recognition delivered, emergency preparedness exercises completed, equipment inspections accomplished, and other important metrics.

Create a template that works for upper management and review it periodically to ensure the report continues to meet their needs and expectations. Consider where the information will come from and what format it is already in. If spreadsheets, graphs, or other material can be transferred directly into the report, it will reduce the amount of time it takes to compile it each month.

Annual Recap and Celebration

An annual report summarizing the expected accomplishments from the strategic management plan clearly displaying all the finish lines crossed over the year has quite the impact. Again, try to use existing formats and material—including the strategic management plan itself—to maximize your time. Reviewing the report should instill a sense of pride by highlighting all the team’s accomplishments over the past year.

But these reports are often long, so what if upper management does not read the full document? Ask for time to verbally present an overview to the C-suite or other relevant stakeholders.

This will provide the opportunity to share all the goals accomplished in the year, plans for the next year, and ask if there is anything else to consider or include for next time.

The annual recap report can be a lot for the entire security team to digest as well. Instead of sharing a big document with the team, consider hosting an annual staff meeting—or possibly two so that you can present the information in shifts to reach everyone without leaving posts unattended.

The presentation must be engaging—if the security manager stands up front and just starts reading the report, he will lose the team’s attention fast, defeating the purpose of the session. Taking some time to turn the objectives and the wins into a dynamic presentation will go a lot further. Better yet, have members of the supervisory team talk about how they contributed to the objectives and core elements of the program.

Adding some pictures from around the site will make it relatable for the staff. Presenters can paint quite the picture by using photos that compare old CCTV images with footage from the newly installed surveillance system. Charts illustrating improved mystery shopper results over the course of a year can help reiterate service expectations and growth made over time.

What Happens When You Cannot Make the Finish Line?

Move it! While not all finish lines can be shifted, take another look at the goal and determine why it is where it is and whether the date can be modified.

Sometimes a security leader must stop, step back, and evaluate the timeline. Security is a dynamic industry. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic derailed plans, or an emergency on site required attention, or a staff member needed some coaching. These things are all part of your job. Do not beat yourself up over it. Realign as required and remember to look back at all of the summits you already scaled along the way. 

Jody Reid leads the security team at the Bow Tower—one of Western Canada’s largest skyscrapers. He has been involved in the service and security industry for more than 30 years, starting his career as a contract security officer and working his way up to a senior management role.