What qualities do security officers in the manned guarding industry share with special forces personnel?
The myths around the Special Forces range from being Olympic standard athletes through to brain surgeons, not to mention the James Bond stereotype. The truth however does not usually match the myth or the films.
During my time with the UK Special Forces I witnessed levels of athletic and intellectual abilities at both ends of the scale. When going through the selection process you ask yourself many questions: Why am I doing this at all? Is it worth the effort? Do I really want to make the compromises necessary to succeed?
Selecting a security officer
One question I found myself asking was, ‘What makes one person pass and another fail?’ Unless I could figure out that one, I might be headed for failure myself!
At first I simply thought they were looking for those who were super fit, blessed with speedy responses, excellent shooting skills and powers of endurance. As the course continued, and indeed afterwards during active service as I reflected, I saw that the qualities that really counted were less about rising to the challenges of high excitement and adrenalin rush, and more about staying focused and motivated at apparently quieter and more boring times.
During high points, whether on training or for real, everyone was motivated and it was easy to perform at optimum levels. There were many factors that helped us perform to those high standards, including knowing that when our lives might depend on it, friends would be monitoring our every move.
Keeping your performance as a security officer at a high level
In the everyday grind, it becomes less straightforward to keep performance continuously at a high level. Back in the training environment, various candidates would drop away, often because of silly mistakes or lapses while dealing with apparently mundane problems. It seemed curious to me that someone could perform to such a high level, and commit so much of themselves at those times, only to throw their chances away at times of minimal stress.
The truth is that it is extremely difficult to do simple things well all the time. From my own experience I have come to believe strongly that this is the key quality that marks the good Special Forces person out from the rest during selection.
To illustrate, such people will pick up every tiny scrap of waste they create and carry it with them, so that no sign ever remains of their presence. Similarly, at the end of a long and exhausting march, they will carefully take off their rucksacks and place them gently on the ground, taking care not to damage any flora or the smallest fauna unnecessarily. A less careful, and sadly more commonly found, person might squash that little piece of waste into the mud with his foot, or slump down after the march thinking more about taking the weight off his legs than protecting the small sapling under his rucksack.
Our experience in the manned guarding sector has highlighted many similarities. Some security officers perform off the charts when things are stressful and during a crisis, and yet when things are quiet and the pressure seems to be off, somehow they let their guard fall, making small but significant errors, undoing a year’s worth of work in terms of their and their company’s reputations.
Similarities between the role Special Forces and the role of security officer
The same qualities that make the Special Forces types stand out can be identified and developed in the very best security officers, and of course the flipside of the coin applies. Lapsing into complacency and taking the easy road when things are quiet is a disaster waiting to happen for both professions.
When a security officer protects the same site every working day or night, and novelty and excitement are rarities, it is extremely difficult to continue with all those seemingly pointless activities and tasks. Asking executives to show their security passes, and actually checking the information on them, or taking the time to talk to guests and visitors while making a note of their manner and appearance, is not hard in the first weeks or months in post. However, to continue these good practices year in and year out as the same faces go by is a much greater challenge. Likewise when searching vehicles, it is easy to be methodical on day one, but to be just as methodical a year later while resisting the temptations of easy short cuts, requires an officer of high quality.
The key to high standards
The key to achieving and maintaining these standards, and to enable a manned guarding company to achieve its goals, is having managers and trainers who understand not only the requirements but also the high levels of difficultly involved.
Companies who have a wider Risk Management portfolio generally have more people to call on from a variety of relevant backgrounds, who will have the understanding and knowledge to put the right assessment, training, re-training and monitoring processes in place within the work teams.
Our company has learned to steer its way through this issue over our 15 years in the business, both in the manned guarding sector and in the sector that employs our ex-Special Forces people. We know first hand how tough a problem it is to overcome. Good guarding companies will ensure systems, procedures and training methods are aligned towards the same goal of carrying out simple tasks well – all of the time. The best companies will apply this generic approach to managing risks to ensure they stay on top of their game 100% of the time.
They should first establish the threats that might cause them to fail, and then quantify and acknowledge the risks. This leads us to risk mitigation and the installation of processes that permanently support our guarding teams and maintain their quality. This should include the training modules that provide the awareness and the guidelines to keep our people on course.
Risk Management companies can bring many benefits to the manned guarding sector
Understanding the challenges and difficulties of achieving constant high levels of performance is a key benefit. It opens the door to long term improvement and long term strategies.
I have heard many senior company executives and heads of security complain about the standards of performance and management among manned guarding vendors.
While I understand their frustrations I am often puzzled at their solutions: for example, going to tender in order to replace one supplier with an identikit alternative, other than a different logo and uniform.
The key to lasting value is first to understand the difficulties of performing mundane tasks to a high level all of the time, and then to look for a supplier who can show strong evidence of being able to achieve it.
Pilgrims Group Ltd