Observation ProcessIn an article I posted last week, I highlighted a recent presentation I attended where I found myself actually getting angry with the presenter, but what I didn’t explain was why I became so aggravated. While last week’s article was about the need for presenters to establish and exceed expectations in their audience, there was one point in the presenter’s message that has continued to grind on me. The presenter’s message was essentially that following processes and procedures was a way for people to “Cover Your Ass” (CYA) in the pursuit of career self-preservation. After the presentation was over, I found myself wondering how many other people in law enforcement or the security industry think the same way he does. While there were a number of people in the audience who were clearly turned off by the message, I did notice a few people who were nodding their heads, seemingly in agreement, as he was connecting procedural adherence with job protection. This is a problem. Processes aren’t in place so that defensively minded people can pass blame onto others; they exist so that people seeking to make the world better can succeed. Processes are for winners.

Processes exist because, every single time you go through and execute the steps that are laid out for the situation you are dealing with, you make the process better and more effective. Processes are not just a checklist that you blindly follow while suppressing critical thinking, they are a guide to ensure that you don’t miss something. Effective processes automate things that are recurring and don’t need thought so that you have the mental resources available to think critically and apply judgment to the situation. While some situations are going to be completely unique, by having a process, you have a reason why you had to deviate from the typical solution instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every single time.

You don’t have threat assessment procedures in place so that you can turn around after something bad happens and yell, “I did everything I was supposed to, it must have been someone else’s fault!” while throwing your hands in the air. It is about being prepared and knowing what you are going to do so that, in case something bad happen, you can fix it and be even more prepared when a similar event comes up again in the future. Procedures aren’t about passing blame; they should instead help you take accountability. When the process does break down, you can conduct a failure analysis to see what went wrong, understand why it didn’t work and make the necessary improvements so that it doesn’t happen again. Processes and systems are not about covering your own ass; they are designed so that you can be more operationally effective. Having procedures allows you to shift from thinking internally, “What are we going to do here?” and focus your mental energy on the external situation and figuring out how the process will help you solve the particular problem you are facing.

Take for example the process we teach in the Basic and Advanced Tactical Analysis Courses for how to establish a baseline. You walk into a new area and you:

  1. Conduct a hasty search to quickly determine if the area has positive or negative atmospherics.
  2. Once the initial assessments about atmospherics are made and confirmed, you do a quick scan of everyone present to see if there is anyone grossly standing out from the baseline.
  3. If there is no one requiring immediate attention, you begin the deliberate search by assessing the environment, determining if the area is a habitual area or an anchor point and identifying the smaller permanent and temporary anchor points within the area.
  4. You continue with the deliberate search by establishing the steps that a typical “customer” would go through to fill their need for being in the location in the first place and assign a cluster of behavior to each of those steps.
  5. You repeat step 4 as many times as needed until you account for each of the personas.
  6. Check for anomalies once each new baseline persona is established.

The first time a student goes through this process, those six steps can feel a bit clunky, as it is new to them. But with only a few video-based exercises, they quickly realize that each time they go through it, they are dedicating less mental attention and energy to thinking about what step is next and instead focusing on all of the people they identify in the area as being either part of the baseline or an anomaly worth investigating. Having a process that you use to establish a baseline increases your situational awareness because your focus shifts from being internal (asking yourself, “What step is next?”) to external (asking yourself, “Who doesn’t fit into my baseline?”).

The same dynamic of shifting mental attention from the internal to the external world is also the reason why we focus so much of our situational awareness training on the articulation of observed behaviors. By limiting the number of ways an observer has available to describe an individual person to an all-encompassing four options (they are: dominant, submissive, uncomfortable, or comfortable), they don’t have to expend any extra effort thinking about the right word to define the person they are observing. At first, those four options seem limiting and cumbersome, but with the practice that comes from using just a few pictures and videos, trained observers are mentally capable of noticing many more of the subtle non-verbal indicators that people display, revealing their true intentions.

The point is that processes and terminology create opportunities for you to continually improve the way that you operate because you don’t have to start your baseline establishment from scratch each and every time. Processes don’t replace a person’s experience, they enhance it by helping the person realize when the situation is atypical and requires that they deviate from the way they would normally act in the particular situation they are in.   Processes and a terminology help shorten the learning curve for new professionals in the field because it gives them a concrete skill that they can practice and develop, empowering them to be effective on the job earlier in their career than they would if they had to figure it out on their own.

As a country, we face some serious problems and serious threats right now both at home and abroad. Defeating our adversaries and being able to win means that, instead of playing to not lose, we need professionals who are playing to win. We need people who recognize the reality of our environment, take accountability for their actions and solve problems instead of trying to pass blame onto others. If you think that you are in a job where the whole world is conspiring against you, leave your job. Unless you are in the military and are on active duty, thus having made a contractual commitment, no one is forcing you to stay in your job. You aren’t a captive victim in your profession. But if you are more concerned about covering your ass instead of making sure that the cracks that people have slipped through in past situations get fixed, it’s time for you to change jobs, because you have just become part of the problem.