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September 20, 2017

Beyond Security: The Collective Mood and Customer Service

This article was originally written for the International Security Driver Association.

I recently posted an article titled “How Security Leaders Can Influence the Mood at Venue Entrances” discussing how security leaders can improve their ability to protect event sites by creating orderly processes that people move through while entering a stadium and venue. The core lesson was that establishing corridors at entrances and helping people to feel safer and more comfortable during their entry allows for more opportunities to proactively recognize threats and prevent violence. Beyond security applications, however, the concepts have also been used by businesses looking to reduce the number customer service problems they face on any given day and can help close protection professionals communicate with event managers and owners about why to consider changing how people enter a venue.

Even though customer service might not be a close protection professional’s primary concern as they prepare for protective operations, being able to demonstrate to a venue’s management why a change to the entry processes can help to make a business more profitable can go a long way to garnering a venue’s willing participation in making those adjustments. In addition to creating the conditions that allow security professionals to successfully recognize threats, the corridor style setup can be used influence customer satisfaction during an event because it begins to lead them towards comfortable behavior from the moment they arrive. To demonstrate the difference in customer satisfaction and the level of stress present at an entryway, consider the difference in boarding processes between two competing airlines.

Example #1: The American Airlines Model

Take a look at the picture below as an American Airlines flight boards at Denver International Airport. While it isn’t a completely unstructured situation because there are assigned boarding groups, passengers wait in a crowd just beyond the ticket scanner for their boarding group to be called because there is no further order established within each of those groups. The result of this process is a semicircle setup where you have a crowd of people all trying to get as close as they can to the gate attendant so that they can board at the front of their boarding group as soon as it’s announced. Due to a lack of any corridors that clearly separate each boarding group from one another, there is an element of an “every man for himself” mentality where goal-oriented behavior begins trumps norm-oriented behavior as people jostle and push their way towards the plane.

One of the problems with the semicircle setup is that, as the passengers in late boarding groups form a crowd near the entrance, it creates

September 6, 2017

Preparing To Lead: Repetitions in Project Planning

Millennials often get a bad rap as being a generation full of entitled, timid leaders with no critical thinking skills. While it is easy to generalize the actions of a few people you’ve met, heard about, or seen in the workplace to be representative of an entire age demographic, in my experience I find that there are a many more millennials who want to put in the work to become leaders within organizations and influence change in the world, even if they aren’t explicitly talking about it. For future leaders, whether they’re millennials or of any other generation, having a vision of where you want to take an organization is only one piece of being a leader. Learning how to put together the plan that you will lead your team through to success is what puts people in a position to actually succeed as leaders.

The Challenge of Preparing to Lead

As Jason Fried, the co-founder of Basecamp, discussed in a recent article, “On Being A Bad Manager,” learning how to manage and how to lead is a lot like learning how to play an instrument in that observation is not a substitute for doing. Just because you’ve listened to great guitarists on the radio doesn’t mean that you can play like them the first time you pick up a guitar. Being a leader is no different. You can observe people higher up than you in an organization, but that observation doesn’t prepare you to step into their shoes and perform at an elite level. Simply seeing others do it is not a substitute for actually doing it yourself.

Spending time as a leader is a critical piece to learning what works and what doesn’t work when guiding a team However, as Fried points out in his article, newly promoted managers and leaders often don’t have the benefit of learning “how to play” in the privacy of their basement; they are being viewed and evaluated as a leader starting from their first day on the job. Of the many challenges that new leaders face, answering the question, “What skill can I develop today before I am put into a formal role so that I am ready when opportunities present themselves?” is what should focus preparation.

One of what I view as the most important parts of developing as a leader is also developing the ability to effectively plan. Planning is just one of many areas that impact how capable a leader is, but it’s one that is often overlooked. To be clear, the type of planning that I’m talking about

August 24, 2017

How Security Leaders Can Influence the Collective Mood at Venue Entrances

When seeking to prevent violence and identify attackers before they launch an assault, leaders in the security industry can take steps to establish conditions at the entrances to venues that lead to successful threat recognition strategies. As my co-author Jason Riley and I discuss in our book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, establishing the baseline for an area so that you can search for anomalies is an essential first step to building a proactive threat recognition process, but what can you do when the baseline isn’t the type of behavior that you’d prefer in that type of situation?  By influencing how safe people feel in an area and creating positive atmospherics, leaders allow professional protectors to recognize anomalous behavior with a greater degree of accuracy and less effort.  If you would like to transition the collective mood at the entrances to your stadiums and arenas from having negative atmospherics to having positive atmospherics, one way to do that is by shifting the component of “orderliness” that people perceive so that your entrances seem more structured.

To help security leaders determine what changes they can make to make people feel more comfortable as they approach stadiums and arenas, we can turn to the findings of an article titled, “Collective Phenomena In Crowds – Where Pedestrian Dynamics Needs Social Psychology,” that was published in the Public Library Of Science’s PLOS One Journal.  In this paper, researchers set out to better understand how the entrances to venues and buildings influence the collective mood. Their research was focused on answering the question, “What is the difference between areas that don’t have a controlled process for entry and those that do?”  When entrances don’t have an established process to get in, the result is a

July 27, 2017

Knowing What You Want in a Network: Lessons Learned for Transitioning Veterans

There is no shortage of advice for military veterans who are transitioning from the armed forces into the civilian world about the need to develop a network in the cities and professions they’re moving into. From helping to get their first job to meeting people with specialized skills or who have information about opportunities, the benefits of having a well-developed network are easy to grasp, yet many of the transitioning veterans I talk with struggle to get this process started. The problem, I’ve learned, is that questions about what you should be looking for in your network are often ill-defined, and the need to “have a network” gets replaced by the “act of networking and network building.” These are two very different things. As a result, veterans (and many civilians for that matter) attempt to build their network inside organizations that aren’t likely to result in long-term relationships, making the transition from the military to business much harder than it needs to be. However, by knowing what type of experiences you are looking for an organization to provide, you can develop relationships with people who can do more than open doors or help you solve a problem, but can be people who you learn to trust.

You Don’t Really Network in the Military

Building a network during my time as a Marine Corps officer was never really a priority for me. Military units are designed to be self-sustaining, so there was never a need to go find the person who is the best at “x” because you likely already have someone filling that role in your unit. Even if you do need to reach outside of your unit for something, perhaps the assistance of an artillery unit for an operation, you don’t get to choose which artillery unit you want. It doesn’t matter if you know the commander, know how well their unit is trained, have worked with them before and prefer to work with them again. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen don’t prioritize networking because, even if you did request a specific unit to support you, the one that you are going to get is the one who is closest to you and who is able to provide a good-enough level of support. Talking about the reasons why networking isn’t something you often see in the military isn’t a critique of the system. It is what it takes to provide decisive military power in combat. Yet this is the reality that forms the experiences that veterans often take with them from their days in uniform to the business world.

Even though many people in the military have friends and buddies in other units, these relationships aren’t the same as intentionally building a network in the civilian world. At least that’s what I thought as I left active duty. What I’ve learned in the five years since I got out of the military is that what I was actually searching for as I built my network were a group of close friends who I could trust and who had connections of their own that could be tapped into for help when needed

My Initial Misguided Approach to Networking

When I left the military, I also left San Diego to move just outside of New York City to start my company. I didn’t have many connections in the area, and I also didn’t really know what I wanted or needed in a network, so I simply started with what I figured to be a “ready – fire – aim” approach to making connections. In more formal terms, what I was doing was

July 19, 2017

Thinking About Situational Awareness Through the Lens of a Field Researcher

Learning how to learn is a skill that often separates the professionals from the novices in a professional field. In the fast-paced and constantly changing world we live in, those who can quickly learn what is happening in a situation, especially once it changes, have many advantages over their slower moving peers. But how do you develop that ability? Learning how to learn isn’t just about picking up on new skills. It’s also about learning how to size-up and make sense of a situation. How do you learn the “way they do things here?” How do you learn what makes the people in an area tick? Whether your goal is to blend in and avoid attention or to identify opportunities to pursue gains, it begins by being capable of building your own map for the areas and situations you encounter. For protectors, guardians and warriors operating in locations where your ability to quickly and accurately learn about the situation can be the difference between success and failure, and it turns out that there is a lot we can learn in this vein from professional field researchers.

According to David Danelo, a Marine Officer, Iraq War Veteran and author of the recently released book The Field Research Handbook: A Guide to the Art and Science of Professional Fieldwork, field research is a simplified process of collecting information outside of a laboratory. While academic research often produces quantifiable results that come from controlling a limited set of variables and clearly defined datasets, I meet many people in the military, law enforcement or security industries that often question the applicability of that research. While academic research can be interesting and enlightening, the very fact that it is done within the controlled environment of a laboratory often makes professional operators question how it will translate into the real world where variables abound, where control is hard to establish and where cause and effect are often difficult to tie together.

Field research is different in that it does reflect all of those real world truths. Field research is also something that you are already doing whether you are aware of it or not. The “collection of information” component to field research is already present in our field; we just use different names for it. In the military, we say that

July 5, 2017

Podcast Interview With “The Idea Vacuum”

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Adrian Stewart from The Idea Vacuum podcast about Left of Bang and provide a few examples of what people can do to apply behavioral analysis in different settings, what goes into the four pillars and some other topics of situational awareness.

From Adrian’s site:

We cover..

  • the specifics of what to look for in people and your environment
  • how you can apply this in an office environment and beyond
  • what it was like landing in Iraq on his first deployment
  • what motivated me to join the Marines

To listen to the hour-long conversation, check out The Idea Vacuum and our conversation here.

May 25, 2017

“Left of Bang” Added to the U.S.M.C. Commandant’s Reading List

Last week, Jason Riley and I learned that our book that we co-authored, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, was added to the 2017 Marine Corps’ Commandant’s Professional Reading List for the Sergeant and Staff Sergeant ranks. As you might imagine, being included on this list is something that we consider to be an incredible honor.

When we first set out to write this book in the fall of 2011, we only had one goal, and that was to ensure that any Marine who wanted to learn how to read behavior and recognize threats by enhancing their situational awareness had the ability to do so. We realized that not every Marine who wanted to attend the Combat Hunter course would be able to. We know that not every Marine has the extra money to pursue similar training outside of the military on their own. But we also knew that books are easily sharable and something that can be revisited time and again and talked about amongst the members of a unit. While the book is just one of many tactics that we are using to help ensure that violent acts are prevented around the world, it continues to be one of the most impactful ways that are helping us make these skills accessible to everyone.

It is also very humbling to be added to the Commandant’s Reading List for Sergeants and Staff Sergeants as well. While the book was written with the individual Marine on patrol in mind, there are no roles better able to influence a unit than the squad leaders and platoon sergeants that Marines of these ranks fill. They see these Marines more than anyone else does and can use their experience to develop competent and proficient Marines before they deploy, making them incredibly influential members in a unit. One of the challenges that these Marines face, however, is that it can be challenging at times to put their experiences into words so that they can be shared and used as teaching tools. One of the most common comments that we hear from our readers and students is that, for the first time, they have a common terminology to explain what it is that they saw. They have a shared language to explain why what they were observing was important. And if that ability to communicate with someone else can help even just one squad leader help a new Marine elevate their situational awareness to a level of informed awareness, then I see that as a massive success.

To show my appreciation for the men and women wearing a uniform and volunteering to head into harm’s way, we have added a “Left of Bang Discussion Guide” to our library. This guide is designed to help leaders discuss the principles of how to get and stay left of bang with their unit, whether it is a formal Professional Military Education session or an impromptu debrief between the members of a team. You can find the discussion guide here.

To everyone who has read the book, thank you.

Never forget. Never Quit. Semper Fidelis.


 

May 25, 2017

A Situational Awareness Discussion Guide: “Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life”

The goal for this discussion guide is to help leaders in organizations across the military, police, and security industries, as well as corporations, universities, and other academic institutions, have effective conversations about how the concepts discussed in Left of Bang apply to them and their organizations.

As professional reading discussions are an effective way for leaders to understand the concerns of their teams, demonstrate how they view situations and communicate values throughout an organization, each of the topics covered in this guide is followed by a statement of purpose for that particular question as well as questions for leaders to consider following the discussion for internal reflection.

My hope is that through the following questions and reflection points, leaders are able to jump start their discussions with their team about the book or situational awareness and are stimulated to create more questions of their own that solve problems unique to them. If there are any questions that come up during a discussion about Left of Bang that you are unable to answer for your team or that you would like a second opinion on, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask us using the contact form here.

Get left of bang and stay there,

Patrick Van Horne


Part 1 – The War Lab

Prompt:

  • Make a list of the training events you have conducted in the last year and the purpose of each event.  How much of your recent training is focused on what to do both before and after an incident occurs?  Does this align with the tasks and problems you are likely to face in your job?

May 17, 2017

When Is Good, Good Enough? How Leaders Should Talk About Standards of Excellence

The question, “When is good, good enough?” was recently posed to readers in Brian Willis’ law enforcement and training related newsletter What’s Important Now?, which focuses on ways to prioritize decisions in our lives. The question came from one of his readers who is training foreign police officers but is having trouble getting them to meet the standards of the training he is tasked with developing. Conversations about standards and the level of training needed for operators in any protector related profession are essential to have, yet they can often be frustrating. Without an objectively defined goal and end state for each person in your team or organization, it can be easy to be fooled into thinking that the progress you’ve made to get to the level of good, is actually good enough, when it truly isn’t. In this article, I’ll take a look at a few different aspects of what goes into a conversation about standards so that leaders can continue to advance their organizations in the face of constant change.

Avoiding Predictable Pitfalls While Talking About Standards

Before we begin to talk about what should go into a discussion about performance standards, the first thing a leader needs to decide is who will be involved in the conversation. In our work with our clients in the military, law enforcement and security industries, the number one pre-event indicator to an ineffective meeting about ways to elevate an organization through training is when the person leading the meeting has not given deliberate consideration to who will be taking part in the process. While the desire to want to cast a wide net and include many different people in a conversation about performance standards is natural and can be seen as a safer option than only including a few people, the decision to do that is far riskier than it may initially appear.

When evaluating and working to improve an organization through training, there will be two groups or people involved in the process. There will be the people involved in the defining of performance standards and there will be the people responsible for doing the planning to make that a reality. While the planners and support personnel (administrators and trainers) can be in the meeting where standards are defined, it is important that they understand they play a supporting role to the person who is in the room to talk about the operational requirements of the men and women in the organization. The involvement of administrators and trainers should only begin once the standard has been defined and set by the leader of the organization.

The reason why failing to distinguish between these two groups of stakeholders is such a problem is because support personnel have different professional responsibilities, priorities and concerns than the operationally focused person does. As a result, the planners and administrators can have a tendency to bring a conversation to the specifics of what it will take to do something before the end-state is clearly defined, leading to distractions and frustrations from everyone involved. To keep a meeting on track and focused on the essential parts of establishing the standards, the next section will highlight the four key components of a performance related standard.

Establishing Standards: The Four Operation Focused Factors

To talk about the standards of excellence that members of a team should meet in order to be successful in an operational setting in a rational and objective way, there are four distinct factors that should be considered.

The first is:

May 12, 2017

The Importance of Mindset In Policing

Here is a great TEDx talk given by our friend Chip Huth in 2015 that we share as a reminder to protectors, warriors and guardians in our society.  As “us vs. them” mindsets continually bombard us in our media, in our politics and in our community, stepping back to remember that we hold ourselves to a higher standard when we sign up to be a public servant can help ensure we focus on what is important and what it will take to get to successful outcomes in each encounter we have.  Take 10 minutes to watch the video below.


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Lisa Van Horne

April 25, 2017

The Furry Anchor Point: Behavioral Analysis Through a Canine Lens

Let me start by saying that the puppy magnet is real. I get it. You see a dog, you want to pet it. It’s natural. You see a puppy, you want to run up to it, pick it up, talk to it, snuggle it, name it, take it home with you and raise it as your own….

Time to get a grip. The truth is that, just like any environment or situation you might find yourself in on a day-to-day basis, interacting with someone else’s dog is a scenario in which any number of circumstances could be at play that you have to identify and decipher before taking any action.

Think of each dog you may encounter as its own anchor point, a furry, moving, wiggling, wagging anchor point. In theory, there are a limited number of select people who are “allowed” to approach that dog and enter into its personal space on any given day. The criteria for entering that space differs with the personality, temperament, and history of each dog. In my dog’s case, all you have to be is a human with hands that could be scratching him and he’ll let you approach him (if he doesn’t approach you first) with zero hesitancy. However, this is not always the case. Think of service dogs and police dogs on duty who are not to be approached, touched, or pet by anyone other than their owner or handler. Every dog you encounter should be treated as if they have that spatial boundary around them until you’ve gotten a read on the situation and made contact with the owner.

Let’s take the act of dog walking as an example, as it’s the behavior of a dog’s owner that is often the best indicator of whether you will be allowed into the space of the anchor point that is their dog. It’s no different than the scenario of approaching a group of people and using behavioral analysis to determine group relationships and dynamics. Dog walking is a situation that dog owners find themselves in likely multiple times a day, and it’s a scenario where you can use multiple principles of situational awareness to read universal signs of human behavior to be conscious, respectful, and ensure you have a good experience while avoiding potentially dangerous encounters for you and your pet.

Interactions with other dog walkers and their canine companions is perhaps one of the biggest wildcards that can come up during a walk. When a dog and their owner is approaching, think about the four clusters of human behavior

April 17, 2017

Three Situations That Should Cause Protection Specialists to Transition to the Deliberate Search

Threat recognition is a game of speed. For executive protection specialists, delays or hesitations in decision-making upon recognizing a threat can be the difference between success and failure while working on protection detail. Because there are some behavioral observations that need to be made immediately upon entering an area and some assessments that can wait until an initial level of safety has been established before being turned to, it is important for a protector (especially one just entering the field) to know which assessment needs to be made and in what order. Improving the method for establishing a baseline in operational settings has been one of our greatest focuses over the last few years. The recent release of our flow charts for how to conduct a hasty search and a deliberate search represents the most current techniques that we use to ensure both speed and accuracy in establishing baselines and searching for anomalies, but what the diagrams don’t show is when a person should begin the deliberate search.

The primary reason why we divide the establishment of a baseline into two phases (hasty and deliberate) is because a full and complete baseline (the result of the deliberate search) is not always needed. There might be situations where you aren’t in the area long enough to even complete both searches. There might be times when you are walking or driving and to try and complete both searches would completely overwhelm you mentally. There might be times when your brain has to be focused on things besides your safety, so you might not be able to dedicate all of your cognitive resources to establishing baselines and looking for anomalies with 100% of your attention. The division between the hasty search and deliberate search exists so that you know the minimum you should be doing (the hasty search) and you know how to conduct the deliberate search when that level of depth in the baseline is needed. But that distinction also creates the question of when a protection specialist should make the transition from the hasty search and begin to conduct the deliberate search.

This question became apparent to me during a recent conversation with Chris Pendas. Chris is a security professional, the owner of the Staying Safe – Self Defense website and a graduate of our Tactical Analysis program. Chris recently recorded a video of himself conducting a hasty search while walking from his apartment building to the subway station, a task that many people can relate to as they commute to work each day. To set the stage for our discussion about transitioning from the hasty search into the deliberate search, start by watching the video he made and think about the steps that go into each search.

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As you watched the video, you may have noticed that he begins to make some assessments about the environment as he identifies habitual areas and anchor points (a deliberate search task), even though he is intentionally trying to limit himself to the hasty search. During our conversation, Chris asked about the times when he should make the transition into the deliberate search. Because answering questions in a way that implies you will “know it when you see it,” or that it is “situationally dependent” is a lazy form of instruction, I provided Chris with three situations when we advise our students and clients to make the transition from the hasty search and begin the deliberate search to heighten their level of situational awareness. Since Chris’ video is of him walking, each of these situations is focused on