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Targeting professionalism.

TARGETING PROFESSIONALISM

Serious security officer training raises morale and builds professionalism.

IN RECENT YEARS, SECURITY Officer training has taken on new meaning and importance. As corporations have become more concerned with security, the role of the security officer has come under greater scrutiny. Corporate security directors must maintain a work force that not only is skilled in patrol techniques and observation but also functions in a public relations capacity. Officers must be ever present but unobtrusive, wary but communicative. Litigation avoidance has become a common term as directors try to inform their officers of the implications of their actions.

In response to these increasingly complex concerns, Merck & Co. Inc.--one of the major manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceutical products--implemented a comprehensive training program in January 1988 for its 36 officers and supervisors at its Rahway, NJ, facility. The goal of the program was to professionalize the security force, build basic skills, and inculcate the notion that security officers truly are professionals with multifaceted duties and critical responsibilities.

The training was done in three-day sessions for each of the four shifts of officers and was held at the company's corporate conference center. Each day focused on a range of relevant topics, including incident report writing, legal concerns, dealing with the public, communication skills, stress management, and traffic control.

Each subject was tied to the ongoing theme of professionalism. Instructors discussed providing quality service, being aware of the effect the security officer had on the daily functions of the company, and understanding the relationship between self-esteem and job performance.

The training was highly participative and included role playing, discussion cases, and small group problem-solving situations that reflected the primary issues confronting the company's security officers.

Participants reacted positively to the program. In both written evaluations and oral feedback, participants stated the training gave them a new perspective on their jobs and a new outlook on their role in the company. They also noted the program provided new techniques and approaches and helped them become more aware of and fine-tune basic skills.

More to the point, it raised morale. Many officers said they were both surprised by and greatly appreciative of the investment the company made in them. As such, they said, they would make a serious effort to apply what they learned.

WHY WAS A TRAINING PROGRAM undertaken? What were the needs or the immediate reasons? How was the program developed? Why was it successful?

The training program was undertaken because the security management staff realized that officers and supervisors required the same kind of high quality, responsive programs that were provided for other professionals. Such training had never been provided for security officers at Merck. Though no major problems had occurred to precipitate the need for training, management realized a carefully prepared and conducted program would improve skills, morale, and, ultimately, overall performance. Rather than taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, management decided to take the initiative in making its officers the best they could possibly be.

Other members of management outside the security department agreed that a new training program for the security staff was critical from both a safety and a public relations standpoint. In addition to protecting people and property, these managers noted that the company's security officer serves as a primary representative of the company, the first person visitors encounter when entering the site. They believed a program for security officers would improve the officers' ability to provide the necessary range of security services to the public, outside contractors, and Merck employees.

Recognizing a new training program could target certain specific areas for improvement, Merck developed a blueprint for the program, listing those areas, possible training time frames, and logistical concerns. It then sought outside assistance by hiring an outside resource--Management Development Systems Inc. (MDS), a New York City-based management and job skills training firm, to develop and administer the program.

Merck and the training team agreed that training should not be done just for the sake of training. Rather, it should serve to build and improve skills, identify and resolve problems, improve both morale and employee identification with company goals, and establish an ongoing department tone of awareness and concern.

The MDS training team began the project by preparing a thorough needs assessment. It met with several Merck officials to discuss their perception of the performance and skill needs of the security officers. Sixty-minute focus group sessions were conducted with each of the four security officer shifts to give the training team a solid understanding of the security officers' basic job practices and a true indication of their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. The focus group meetings were structured to encourage the officers to express their concerns openly but to prevent the meetings from degenerating into gripe sessions.

As a result of these focus group meetings, the training team came to the following conclusions:

* The security officers wanted and needed training. Many commented with satisfaction that they were finally going to receive training like other employee groups in the company had received. Training, they said, would preclude the need to be mind readers on everything from writing reports to communicating with the public. They also agreed training would help raise the morale of the entire security force.

* Report writing and communication skills should be emphasized during the training. The security officers stated they were confused, intimidated, and frustrated by the preparation of incident reports. They were unsure about the exact style and information expected for the reports, grammar usage, and accurately expressing themselves.

The security officers felt poor communication had often resulted in uncertainty regarding procedures and policies. Many officers stated they had problems communicating with their supervisors and thus, felt they were getting mixed messages on how to handle certain situations.

One communications problem that needed to be focused was on dealing with other Merck employees. Each of the four focus groups stated unequivocally that it was more difficult to communicate effectively with Merck employees than with the public.

* Stress management, legal concerns, and traffic control also needed to be a major part of the training. The officers stated they had trouble adjusting to changes in policies and procedures and felt stress as the result. They were also uncertain of their legal limitations and rights. Finally, though they realized the duty of traffic control was an important responsibility, they disliked it because of the inadequacy of their original training and their resulting confusion in certain situations.

* Merck security officers cared about their jobs and their job performance. Without question, the officers were genuinely concerned about doing their jobs well. They cared about each other and about Merck & Co. Inc., and they wanted to fulfill their responsibilities to the best of their ability.

In addition to meeting with the security officers, the training team met with the security supervisors to learn their perceptions of performance levels and training needs. The supervisors agreed that training would be useful and made valuable suggestions about improving certain skills. The training team also informally observed the officers on the job as often as possible. As a result of this varied and ongoing communication, the MDS team developed curriculum materials, a training design, and a training schedule.

FOR THE TRAINING TEAM, THE KEY words in developing and administering the training were relevance and participation. It was imperative that the exercises and discussion cases presented during the training reflect realistic situations and problems. It was also critical that the program encourage the greatest involvement by the participants.

Learning objectives were carefully developed for each subject, and exercises were framed to meet those objectives. These exercises involved small group problem-solving situations, role playing, and answering questionnaires on job-related topics.

The site for the training was an important factor in planning the program. Using an off-site location, the Merck Corporate Conference Center, made it possible to conduct a variety of exercises in several rooms, keeping the training fresh and interesting. The participants were able to get away from their usual job site and truly concentrate on the training.

The participants were aware that the center is the site for most corporate management seminars. They were both impressed and appreciative that their training was being held there, too.

The overall goal for the seminar was to build skills and improve attitudes. The opening discussion focused on defining what a Merck security officer was and did. Participants were encouraged to take a step back to see that their jobs were multifaceted and important to the daily functioning of the company. The emphasis on improving communication skills and understanding that attitude affects performance contributed to the ever present theme that security officers are professionals and should present and conduct themselves accordingly.

The three-day seminar was structured to move at a fast pace; lecturing was kept to a minimum. The exercises focused on interacting with the public, responding to emergencies, and using observation skills. Participants acted out the parts of demanding top managers, argumentative outside contractors, unruly visitors, and complaining company employees.

EVALUATIONS OF THE TRAINING--both formal, written evaluations and informal feedback--were consistently positive. Several critical factors explain the program's success:

* The needs assessment process helped establish a foundation of mutual trust and respect between the training team and the participants.

* The new approach to security officer training, focusing as much on improving human relations skills as on improving technical job skills, enabled the officers to express their opinions and feelings on such topics as self-image, communication, and stress and gain a broader perspective on their jobs.

* The program's emphasis on professionalism and the importance of the officers to the company created a positive environment, making the officers more open to the training itself and to the idea that it could help them in the future.

* The use of an off-site location helped both the instructors and the participants to maximize their involvement. The training was conducted in a professional atmosphere conducive to participation, learning, and solidifying peer relationships.

* The participatory nature of the training made it both a learning experience and an enjoyable undertaking. The use of exercises based on actual situations made the training relevant and enabled the officers to debate, argue, rethink, and resolve problems by working and reasoning together.

* The support of top management strengthened the credibility and importance of the training. The participants realized the training was an investment in them and took it seriously.

The training program immediately increased participants' awareness of the importance of effective communication and professionalism on the job. In informal conversations between the officers and the training team since the training occurred, the officers stated they used the newly learned techniques, including those in managing stress. The training served to better define roles and responsibilities, identify and resolve performance-based problems, and improve the skills needed to be effective security officers.

Joel A. Goldberg is founder and president of Management Development Systems Inc. in New York City. Goldberg has developed training programs for government and industry and played a major role in planning and coordinating the 1983 White House Conference on Productivity.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Goldberg, Joel A.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Words:1836
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