Who Is Next In Line?

Who's next

Two conversations recently brought home the need for succession planning.

The first, a friend’s remark regarding an industry meeting he had attended, “I looked around the room and realised we were all old men.” Second, a call from another friend to tell me that he had cancer.

If those in the industry are indeed engaged in the art of security, the industry should be able to look ahead, plan for the future and mitigate risks.

According to the Federal Government, over the next 40 years, as a result of smaller families and people living longer, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double to around 25 percent, while growth in the population of traditional workforce age is expected to slow to almost zero. The Treasury says, “This is a permanent change. Barring an unprecedented change in fertility rates, the age structure of the population is likely to stabilise with a far higher proportion of older Australians… Between now and 2040, every state and territory is expected to experience a significant ageing of its population. Ageing is an issue in which everybody has an interest.”

The security industry will not be exempt and is, in many ways, already there. The nature and structure of business, however, has not been managed to accommodate succession. The gap between line supervisors and senior managers is enormous, to say the least, mostly due to management gurus and consultants touting new business structures for the so-called information age.

For years businesses have been told to avoid hierarchies. In his article In Praise of Hierarchy (Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb 1990), Elliott Jaques writes, “Theorists tell us it ought to look more like a symphony orchestra or a hospital or perhaps the British Raj. It ought to function by means of primus groups or semi-autonomous work teams or matrix overlap groups. It should be organic or entrepreneurial or tight-loose. It should hinge on skunk works or on management by walking around or perhaps on our old friend, management by objective.”

Pointing out “all their proposals are based on an inadequate understanding of not only hierarchy but also human nature,” Jacques adds, “Hierarchy is not to blame for our problems. Encouraged by gimmicks and fads masquerading as insights, we have burdened our managerial systems with a makeshift scaffolding of inept structures and attitudes. What we need is not simply a new, flatter organisation, but an understanding of how managerial hierarchy functions – how it relates to the complexity of work and how we can use it to achieve a more effective deployment of talent and energy.”

Campfires and group hugs are fine in customer service settings, but do people ever die as a result of rude staff? In place of inept structures and attitudes, security demands discipline and a clear hierarchy to hold individuals accountable for their work. It may well be cheaper to have fewer layers and sounds grand to be managing risk at a local level through audits, reviews and reporting, but the reality is, who is responsible, do they know what they are doing and, more importantly, do they have any real experience? The latter comes about through the intelligent use of hierarchies and a clear chain of command through which subordinates can take on increasing amounts of responsibility and move to the next level.

Next time you are at industry meeting or conference, look around the room at who is in charge now. If age does not weary them, cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women. So ask, “In five years’ time, who will be responsible for security at the airlines, financial institutions, shopping malls, service providers and places of mass gathering?” Feel comfortable with your answer? I do not.

Rod Cowan
Rod Cowan has contributed for over 30 years to security around the world through his writing, teaching, speaking at industry conferences and public events, as well as assisting in various Government investigations and corporate research. Cowan is a Research Fellow with the Research Network for a Secure Australia (http://rnsa.org.au) and was convener of its Safeguarding Australia Annual Summit 2017 in Canberra. He is also a Strategic Advisor to the Dubai-based Emirates Group Security/Edith Cowan University Centre of Aviation and Security Studies (CASS).