I have written blogs on EP training in the past and why they are critical to program success. Career development, retainment, and quality control are all its building blocks.
Here I wanted to take a different approach and highlight the benefits EP/RST training programs can provide. What you can get out of them and what metrics can benefit you and the team.
“If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur.”
We all know how important the initial pillars of EP training are and how vital the sustainment training piece is long-term. “Use it or lose it” comes to mind, as it still rings true.
Richard Branson famously said, “Train people well enough, so they can leave, but treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.”
This quote has always stuck with me since I first saw it.
Now, I realize there is a big difference in budgets, staffing, in-house vs. vendor teams, and the overall maturity level of the EP programs. But, with that put aside, let me lay out some ways that you can use to improve your current program.
Power to the People
The single greatest asset in Executive Protection is its people. The question is, how do we retain them long-term in a volatile industry. The turnover is high, burnout is a real thing, and agents always look for greener pastures.
We are also dealing with a relatively small pool of qualified candidates in high-end protective services, making retainment even more critical.
Spending money upfront on training is far more cost-efficient than having to pay millions on the back end once something has gone wrong. And it shows the duty of care.
Why not have preset training tier levels on a detail? No one wants the second or third best team in the industry. I often see the new agent on a 90-day probation period without training. I see various types of these scenarios all the time.
We let the agent work through a probation/trial period and expect them to perform without training? Yes, they have their pillars of EP already as a pre-requisite to being hired. But how do we know how they deploy those skills?
At a minimum, there should be an existence of an OJT manual. Most EP/RST teams have a lack of information available, not only to new agents but in general. From a liability standpoint, the Director/legal counsel/CSO/COO or whoever sits on the highest step of responsibility should spell out and sign off all major protocols.
The short-term vision for training is to keep the agents upon the hard skills. It also keeps agents happy, as it takes them away from standing by to stand by. However, you should use it also as a quality control measure.
Training brings the team up to the same standards and performance level and will show where improvements are needed.
Selecting the Right Training for Career Development
I highly recommend attending training, where instructors evaluate the team members. That way, as the manager, you get a few paragraphs about your team members’ performance. Not just a certificate or a pass/fail. I find most instructors are happy to comply with performing student evaluations if asked.
These evaluations are especially important for the sustainment of training programs, as you can measure a standard on each team member. For example, measure increase/decrease or maintain their performance level, whether monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, or annual.
It is also an essential metric in their bonus structure, yearly raises, and performance reviews, which should be standard practice on mature teams.
A decrease in performance may be an indicator of a problem that you can address early on. What is happening in that agent’s life that requires your attention? How can you help them back on track? Did they have a bad day, or do they have problems at home, or are they burning out?
If all help fails and improvement doesn’t happen, you could put them on a PIP (performance improvement plan) for 30-90 days. There you still try your best to help them overcome the decrease in performance, but now have official documentation, if needed, to out-process that person after giving them every chance to correct the issue.
The Value of Good Management
Nine out of 10 times, a good manager will identify and provide the support the employee needs to bring that team member back up. But you may never have noticed the issue without a metric in place.
Jack Welch preaches in his management programs the importance of being honest in terms of letting people know where they stand on your team, so it can’t come as a surprise when you have exhausted your support options and must replace them.
Long-term continuous training is helpful in retainment, but why not take it a step further and use it for agents’ career development? From a manager’s perspective, I genuinely believe that you should be grooming your team members for their future careers.
In a previous job, we examined the reasons why team members leave details so we could put measures in place to minimize those. This type of analysis shows how mature and how proactive the program was in comparison to many others.
Retainment starts in the interview process. Be honest, tell people your expectations if you hire them, and explain why they should stay long-term.
Progress and Resume
We strive for a 3–5-year commitment to the team. In return, we show them a training structure that laid out the training program month by month for 36-48 months. Then, divided into 3 Tier levels, we use that as another metric in yearly raise calculations.
From day one, an agent can tell his training progression over the next 3-4 years. This is an instance of training with hard skills and many soft skill/management/certification programs, translating into long-term career development.
Each agent could tell how their resume would look when the day arose, and they wanted to leave the detail. We encouraged them to progress in the industry after 36-48 months.
We would conduct performance reviews and ask each agent what they wanted to do long-term to steer them towards training that would support their goals. It turned out that most ended up staying five years or more. That is because of the initial measures we had put in place for long-term retainment, and the agents saw the value in staying.
We must be realistic about retainment. You can’t expect the forever-agent. Moreover, smaller organizations have no advancement opportunities or yearly raises available. Hence, it should be your mission as their manager to prepare them to move on and thrive in the best way possible.
On the Road and Physical Training
Another retainment concern is the time agents spend away from home. Twelve-hour shifts, travel, and commute time can consume 14-18 hours a day.
Most agents are into physical fitness. Thus, an excellent way to retain them long-term is to provide either gym memberships or building a gym at the office/residence/Command Post that they can use during the shift, bases on SOP for coverage.
Working out at work translates into more time at home for them, less burnout, and more fit for the bi-annual fitness test. Yet another metric while adding duty of care with a great ROI. A win-win.
The last 15 months of COVID-19 put a temporary halt to most physical training. But as we emerge from this pandemic and look towards the future, we will get back on the physical training programs in no time.
The Upside of the Pandemic and Career Development
A good thing ― if there was one ― to happen during the pandemic has been the expansion and improvement of online training courses, not only for EP but also in general.
On platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn, you can find so many online courses now in:
- Physical security,
- Security management,
- Business continuity, and
- Supply chain security.
Most EP training providers have started providing online material to supplement the physical pillars of EP with pre-requisites online.
Online training platforms like EP Access have the outliers of EP training covered. Courses you don’t usually see. Courses that are more “theoretical material based” and don’t require the agent to participate physically. A great way to save money on training ― no travel, no hotel ― and an easy way to get everyone on the same page.
It is also an easy way to track who has completed the courses, and the agents get a certificate of completion for career development. Make sure the courses you pick have assessments/tests as a measure of completion.
This provides even more metrics to pull data from if you have to give reports on team ROIs. Or if you have quarterly business reviews or otherwise have to satisfy specific KPIs.
Data collection on training is essential, whether you are an in-house team or a vendor team.
As an industry, we are more and more data-driven, so the data should be collected and utilized to our advantage.
From career development to retainment, to quality control, we need to invest in our agents from day one. First, it is just good practice. Second, we need those training programs to provide and upkeep the skillsets that team members need and provide quality control data.
We need to present a career development path, not only for retainment but because it is the right thing to do.
Lastly, we need to collect all the data possible between the different metrics that I described above. That way, we can compare where we are to where we were and see improvement or a decrease in where we are going and provide fair assessments of our agents in time of raises, bonuses, and promotions.