Real Prevention Requires Real Help

loss-prevention_131745482By Ray Esposito.

Loss Prevention is as much a philosophy as it is a department. To reach shrink goals, a company must enlist the help of every associate. Belief that one person or a single department is solely responsible for loss control is no more valid than the belief that a company mission statement can ensure great customer service. Real prevention requires the real help of every associate. Established policy and strong operations may be the cornerstone to loss prevention, but ultimately, culture creates the positive behaviours that make a difference. Creation of that culture is dependent on understanding why and when associates provide help.

Is Help on the Way?

No single process can guarantee that associates will help reduce losses. However, we can draw on the research in social psychology to understand the factors that lead to assistance, and to design communication that creates the best environment to foster a ‘helping attitude’.

A determined and methodical approach to build a positive shrink reduction culture may not have guaranteed results, but will definitely create an environment where results are most likely to develop. This advice may seem counter intuitive to the business mind that prefers direct correlation; cause and effect, supply and demand and return on investment. The fact is, as we tend to focus on the number of apprehensions, audit compliance, and tighter operational controls, great awareness seldom receives credit for lower shrink results. However, consider why we became knowledgeable of dishonesty, how we created better compliance, and why associates actually followed our new policies. The answer: We asked and they decided to help.

How Many ‘Yes’s’ Do I Need?

The Decision-Making Perspective in social psychology contends that an “individual decides to offer assistance and then takes action(1)”. In this perspective, the individual actively participates in a process whereby they use social cues and rational evaluations to determine if they will assist.

In short, the company presents its case, and then the individual judges the merits of the request based on the answers to four simple questions:

  1. Does someone need help? As simple as this seems it is the most vital trigger for gaining associate assistance. If the individual does not perceive a problem then they will not consider providing help.
  2. Am I responsible for helping? The associate may understand that a problem exists, but they only take action if they also believe they are responsible to help fix that problem.
  3. Is helping worthwhile? Every associate functions like a business enterprise. They conduct a cost-benefit analysis in the formulation of decisions. If the costs are too high, the benefits too low, or the process is too time-consuming or unpleasant, then the balance sheet works against receiving their assistance.
  4. Do I know how to help? Even if we score three ‘yes’s’, our efforts are meaningless and without clear direction. An associate may be willing and able to assist us, but have no idea what they should do.

Aware-a-size me!

One of the easiest and most direct channels for communicating the desired behaviour is through a clear and concise awareness program. We can think of such programs as ‘education’, in part because that is the main purpose, but in truth, this is our best shot at an advertising campaign.

Our customers have finite dollars to spend and we want at least a part of it, so we advertise, convince, and convey a very clear message – ‘spend your money here!’ Our associates have finite resources of time and attention, so if we want them to ‘spend some of it here’, then we also need to advertise, convince, and convey.

Unlike the single purpose of the ad campaign, our awareness message must also elicit the four ‘yes’s’ needed to get the associates to ‘buy’. It should ask for help, communicate an expectation that they should help, explain the benefits of helping (or the costs of not helping), and, most importantly, give them the tools to help.

The perfect awareness program meets three objectives: it is interesting, concise and clear. Like a good ad campaign, we should have awareness information presented in a format that is appealing to our potential customer. An attractive presentation not only draws them in, but it demonstrates that the information is important enough to the organisation to warrant its own place on the wall.

If we expect our associates to read a monthly newsletter, then it is also important that we keep the information concise. The average person can read 250 words per minute and has a comprehension rate of about 60 per cent. Newsletters should convey our message in a ‘one minute’ format by maintaining a word count of 200 to 300 words.

Since that one minute read will achieve an average of 60 per cent comprehension, it is vital that we make the message as clear as possible. The rule of thumb is to keep it simple – e.g. here is the issue, here is how you can recognise it, and here is how you can help.
Fancy Posters Are No Substitute for a Good Corrective Action

There is no doubt that punishment can be effective in correcting unwanted behaviour. Receiving help, however, is about influencing a person to do what they otherwise could avoid. In every study related to influence, it is clear that coercion (the threat of punishment) is the least effective method because it requires constant surveillance. The associate may do what we want, but only as long as they are being watched. Coercion leads to ‘lip service’ and secrecy, neither of which will assist us in our shortage reduction goals. A good awareness program explains the problem, asks for their help, explains the benefits, and shows them what to do. In doing so, the associate volunteers their efforts and are most likely to make their efforts known. This is the ideal situation that will continue, provided we reward their efforts through recognition – yes, the majority of associates do not want cash, they want a simple and sincere ‘thank you’.

Is Help on the Way? Part II

Your company can apprehend dishonest associates and customers everyday, you can have a spreadsheet filled with 100 per cent audit scores, and you can send reams of policy manuals to your locations, but none of those things alone will help you achieve your shortage goals without the help of your associates.

We need to investigate, we need to audit, and we need to write and enforce policy, but ultimately the real power to control loss lies in their hands. The true key to loss prevention is the associate’s willingness to not engage in dishonest activity, their willingness to report those who do, their desire to help deter shoplifting, and their commitment to follow procedures that reduce exposure.

Determining if you foster an environment for ‘help’ is as simple as taking an inventory of the company’s actions and communication:

  • Is loss prevention an active priority for our entire organisation?
  • Do our actions communicate that priority?
  • Are we asking associates to help?
  • Are we showing them how to help?

How did you answer these questions? If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, then you may need to re-think how your company perceives loss prevention.

Ray Esposito is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Development & Marketing at Loss Prevention Innovations.


  1. Latane & Darlay, 1970, and Scharts, 1977