Succession planning for security: what’s the right blueprint?
If you had to promote someone in your department to a supervisory role tomorrow, do you know who that person would be? If you do, would your choice be based on how they’ve performed in their current role, or, would it be based on tracked performance reviews and a training program created to propel them forward into a supervisory or management position?
If the answer was the latter, you’ve done your employee and your
company a huge benefit. As smart security departments move more towards
aligning their own objectives to those of the business of the companies
they work for it makes for better return on employee investment and for
better employees. If you’re more inclined to promote a front line
officer simply because you think they’ve put in enough time and you
basically like them, think again.
In the words of Kevin Murphy, director of security operations at
Woodbine Entertainment Group, the days of promoting “the good soldier”
are over. Murphy believes it is his responsibility to plan for the
future of employees, departments, and the company, especially in the
event of the unexpected.
“The critical piece in this for my supervisors and managers is that I
am not the centre of the universe. If something happened to me someone
would have to run my department and I have an obligation to make sure
that can happen,” he says.
Murphy’s been through the process of succession planning and has
witnessed the benefits of moving to a model that coaches lower-level
staff into new roles gradually, giving them a taste of responsibility
over time, rather than simply rewarding an employee with a good record,
or penalizing bad behaviour by denying promotion.
And while many security departments hire individuals who ultimately
have their eye on becoming police officers, Woodbine and others are now
focused on finding those interested in developing a career as a
security professional in the private sector.
“For a long time we hired aspiring police officers for in-house
security officer positions and contract security, but we realized it
didn’t hit our service model. We didn’t want a full team of aspiring
cops. We want people who are more service-oriented,” says David Hyde,
director of security services with Cadillac Fairview.
These changing approaches to staffing were part of a discussion that
took place this past June in Toronto at Succession Planning, a
Blueprint for Supervisors —a breakfast event sponsored by AFI
International and hosted by Canadian Security and ASIS Toronto. The
panel discussion included Murphy, Hyde, Tim Pritchard, director with
Commissionaires and Brian Robertson of Diligent Security Training and
Robertson kicked off the morning by providing his own personal example
of how promotions have traditionally been granted in the security
industry. Robertson told the audience how 16 years ago at the age of 34
he was attending adult education classes during the day and working a
graveyard shift as a security guard for a contract security firm at a
large corporate office tower.
“I had been working there seven months when a site supervisor moved on and I was offered his job,” says Robertson.
His pay went from $8/hr to $10/hr. “I found the lure of big money too hard to resist,” joked Robertson.
“I was promoted because the former site supervisor recommended me. This
came as a surprise to me because that site supervisor hated me and did
little to disguise it,” recalls Robertson.
But the reason Robertson says he was promoted was not because he had
been groomed for the job, but rather because the former supervisor told
management he was the only guard working at that site who “wasn’t a
Clearly that shouldn’t be the only criteria for promotion and he says
it raises some critical questions for the industry: Are we promoting
the right people? Are we preparing line workers for eventual promotion
to supervisory roles? The fundamental question, says Robertson, is do
we see supervisors as senior officers or as junior managers?
“A supervisor should be viewed as a junior manager, but everything
about the way we recruit, select, train and task supervisors means they
are senior officers; a lead hand. We tend to select supervisors based
on how good they were at being security officers,” he says. “But if
their next job is to coordinate, motivate and equip employees are we
really doing that properly?”
Woodbine Entertainment and Cadillac Fairview have tackled the
succession-planning question with an eye to aligning their hires and
employee development with business goals in mind.
The Cadillac Fairview approach
“There was a real lack of alignment in terms of managing security and
business objectives in the broader terms,” says Hyde who, over a
two-year period took on a massive restructuring of the Cadillac
Fairview security division to create job descriptions that better
comply with the company’s business goals of customer service and tenant
“Our security business strategy has to support the business goals and
objectives. Cadillac Fairview is in business to maximize return. But
there was a lack of alignment in how we were managing security in all
of our property groups,” says Hyde.
It was a massive undertaking that involved 600 frontline security staff — half in-house and half contract.
Hyde found there was a lack of consistency in job descriptions and
expectations. There were various titles that included manager,
coordinator and supervisor but no real reasoning as to how the title
would be bestowed upon an individual.
He discovered many managers wanted ultimately to be part of a police
service and many front line security people were also aspiring police
officers. Few wanted to develop into a senior role at Cadillac Fairview.
Hyde had found the catalyst for change and focused on leadership, supervision and management.
“It was clear to us that leadership at each location was the key to
positive change. We needed to hit the middle strata. So we took a long
hard look at our business requirements and took several key steps. The
first was we recognized that we needed a company-employed manager of
security at every one of our locations,” he says.
He also changed a key job title. Every individual in a lead role became
a manager of security and life safety. There were no more supervisors
The primary focus of the role became managing the operational aspects
of the department, but with four core areas of focus: safety and
emergency management, operational management, personnel and staffing
and budget and security administration.
When it came to setting departmental goals for the security department
Hyde said it was important to include a focus on performance management
and individual team development in support of high standards and
effective succession planning.
The result of all the change management was staggering.
“It was the first time some of these security heads — some of them
25-30 year veterans — really understood what was expected of them. How
they did their job was tied into business objectives and keeping
tenants in the building, creating confidence in the safety in the
buildings and properties and providing excellent service,” he says.
Contract security supervisors were given job descriptions that spelled
out requirements such as mentoring, managing people, and training
programs, all clearly identified as requirements of their position.
“We framed it as business managers with a focus on security,” says Hyde.
He also developed an assessment package that looked at behavioural
competencies — things like problem solving, leadership skills,
organizational skills, conflict management, and security management
skills. Individuals were given a one-year time frame to get up to speed
on the new requirements. About 40 managers went through the process and
five didn’t make the cut.
The message? If you’re going to assess and reframe your security
management ranks across a large organization you have to be prepared
for tough decisions.
The other critical piece is to make sure those doing the hiring know
what to look for and are suitably qualified to make good hires.
What’s Hyde’s advice for those about to take on such a project? Do
extensive work on job descriptions and business objectives first.
“Once you’ve developed the job descriptions and core competencies
everything flows from that such as training programs for security and
key issues you report to your executive or board.”
The Woodbine experience
The catalyst for change at Woodbine Entertainment came in the mid-1990s
as the racetrack became a 24/7 operations with additional gaming
Murphy’s payroll budget jumped in 1999/2000 from $2.5 million to $5 million strictly for payroll and benefits.
“We hired a bunch of retired policemen but was a short term fix. We had to create a new model.”
He also needed to get a handle on the turnover rate. Even during the
late 1980s the security department had seen a revolving door of staff.
“We started by instituting a policy of casual or probationary guards —
no one comes into Woodbine with a full-time job,” he says.
Employees are now evaluated on an annual basis and have the opportunity
to move up. Probationary guards are offered full-time work or
And today, Woodbine’s primary source of employees is the law and security college programs, not those from the police ranks.
The managerial teams meet regularly and identify people in the security
officer ranks that show potential for a position known as “Acting in
Charge” — a one day role that makes sure people have assignments and
are entirely responsible for that day.
“They can move back and forth between being a guard and Acting in
Charge on a regular basis to see how they handle that opportunity and
those people,” says Murphy.
Another role — Acting Supervisor — fills in for someone who is off ill
for three to six months and they are evaluated throughout the period.
When a supervisory role comes up they may move up.
The same applies for senior managers. They are given different the
opportunity to have ownership of different projects and all the while
management is keeping an eye on who will be qualified to take on the
“All these people knew how to write a report and do rounds but they had
to focus on how to manage people within the culture of our
organization. We took a giant leap from one of discipline to one of
coaching and mentoring, with less focus on penalizing behaviour and
focused on correcting the behaviour,” says Murphy.
He says the result has been that people have advanced faster and
further and he has been able to demonstrate to senior management that
there is value in what they do.
Woodbine has seen its security staff retention improve from 35 per cent turnover 20 years ago to five-to- seven per cent today.
The contract example
Tim Pritchard, director of professional services at Commissionaires,
says the contract industry has historically not done the job of
promoting and coaching any better than any other organization. The
Commissionaires now fosters a culture of senior employees mentoring
He admits it’s tough to build a culture and foster mentoring when
contract employees can be geographically displaced across a vast region
with supervisors checking in for short periods of time. It’s also a
matter of money.
“Training and recognition, those things take money and in our industry
we work on fairly thin margins which can make it difficult to engage
employees and make them want to take those next steps,” says Pritchard,
but Commissionaires works to develop employees in a culture of service
and get them ready from the day they walk in as a front-line guard.
“We need the senior people in the organization supporting the front
line. Servant leadership follows the principle of the ethical use of
power and to lead you must serve. If we take that into our organization
we all play nicer in the sandbox and people become engaged and
translates into how our people deal with clients and that translates to
renewed contracts,” he says. “We allow them to make decisions and they
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