Guiding Security Guard Services

By John Cholewa, CPP

Are your security guards doing the things you want them to do? And are they doing these things the way you want them done? If your answer to either of those questions is no, the good news is it may be easier to get things on track than you think. The bad news: This may be easy because you are part of the problem.

Outsourced Security Guard Services

It is likely your guard operation is outsourced. The reasons for outsourcing vary, but primarily they are:

  • Not wanting to add to headcount
  • Wanting to minimize costs
  • Not wanting to supervise the guard force
  • Not having someone on staff knowledgeable about security or guard operations

Other than not wanting to add to headcount, every one of those reasons can contribute to difficulties in the guard operation.

Guard companies know minimization of costs is a key objective of an RFP, so they will present the lowest bids possible. That sounds like a good thing, but there could be a hidden danger. Guard companies have been known to bid a job at breakeven, and even a loss, in order to get a contract. The thinking there is they can somehow make the contract profitable once they win it. None of the outcomes driven by that type of thought process will be good for anyone. Another issue with low bids is guard compensation. Like any service organization, the primary cost driver for guard companies is labor. As such, low bids generally translate into lower guard compensation. This affects guard quality and the rate of guard turnover. Lower quality guards and higher turnover rates directly affect the quality of the service received.

Not wanting to supervise the guard operation will also translate into poor quality service. (“Supervising the guard operation” does not mean direct supervision of the guards; it means performing an active oversight role.) Not interfacing frequently and effectively with the guard operation will lead to unfulfilled expectations at best, and potentially serious problems. Ignoring the guard operation creates the impression it is not valued. If guards feel their services are not valued, they will not be motivated to provide a high level of service.

If an organization does not have someone on staff with security experience, there may be a tendency to outsource the guard operation in the belief that the guard company is a security firm and will know what services the company needs. Guard companies are not security firms and they will not know what services the client wants. Guard companies expect their clients to tell them what services they want. Once they have that information, they will provide the guards and training necessary to deliver those services. If the client does not tell them specifically what they want the guards to do and how, the guard company will do their best to provide the services they think the client needs, but that approach will not deliver an optimal solution from the perspective of either the client or the guard company.

Guards and Guard Companies

What can facility clients expect from guards and guard companies? Guard companies are not security firms. At the most basic level, their business is supplying guards to clients on an hourly basis. They may help clients determine the duties the guards could perform, but the client must decide specifically what they want to have done and how they want it done.

Clients should not assume guards have broad or deep security experience or skills. Guards receive two types of training by their employer. The first is standardized training that is similar from one guard company to another. Except where an individual state requires more, that training will generally be eight hours in length. The second type of training is on-the-job training. The purpose is to ensure the guards have the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the specific tasks the client wants to have performed on their property. That is why it is critical that clients clearly identify what they expect the guards to do, and how. If a client does not identify a particular task or service, the guards may not be provided with the training needed to perform it.

One of the major contributors to less than optimal guard service is the manner in which clients view and treats guards. All too often, guards are viewed as unskilled individuals of marginal value. Their compensation is low, their training is minimal, and the client sees no reason to interface with them.

After an incident, however, that view changes abruptly if the incident was not handled “properly” in the eyes of the client. The guards are criticized for not displaying the communication skills of a vice president of communications, the training of a law enforcement officer, the judgment of an executive, and the speed and reflexes of a ninja. When things go wrong, clients tend to forget their initial view was that guards are unskilled individuals of marginal value and that when they evaluated the proposals they opted for low cost.

Ensuring Effective Service

Organizations must make a quality investment in their approach to managing guard operations if they expect success. They must set the direction for the operation, and clearly identify the duties they want performed and the manner in which they want them performed. They must establish clear expectations for the operation, and ensure guards are properly compensated and trained by the guard company. If motivated, highly performing guards are desired, they must be treated as valuable contributors to the success of the organization. If those things are not done, when there are problems with guards, the company needs to look inward and ask if they may have unintentionally played a role.

(Portions of this article were excerpted from the Developing and Managing Physical Security Programs: A Guide for Facilities and Human Resources Managers, authored by Cholewa and published in 2015.)

John Cholewa, CPP headshotCholewa is the owner and principal consultant of Mentor Associates, a security consulting firm in Monument, CO that specializes in guiding management in the protection of organizational resources. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and a Master of Arts from Central Michigan University, is Board Certified in Security Management, and is the author of Developing and Managing Physical Security Programs: A Guide for Facilities and Human Resources Managers.