How Poor Communication Impacts Quality in Executive Protection 1024 1024 ESLNA

How Poor Communication Impacts Quality in Executive Protection

By Christian West and Joe LaSorsa

In our last blog, we made the case for better quality management in executive protection. In this one, we’d like to take a closer look at what we consider to be one of the main causes of quality issues in our field: poor communication.

A tremendous amount of what we do in executive protection depends on smooth communication. Communication is how we coordinate activities between team members to keep our principals secure and successful. It’s also how we align expectations between team members and our principals, others in their organizations, and vendors – to keep our jobs.

It’s no wonder, then, that of all the things that can go wrong and hurt the quality of executive protection, poor communication is almost always a contributing factor. After all, whether good or bad, communication plays a central role in every interaction between people. It’s so built into everything we do that it’s easy to take for granted. But when executive protection professionals take things for granted, protective quality is often the first victim.

To assume makes an ass of u and me

We make assumptions all day long. It’s how humans and other critters with brains get by in the world without spending energy on every little decision. Some assumptions are justified by the laws of physics: apples fall down, not up. Some are supported by rules and laws: cars drive on the right side of the road (or the left) and stop at redlights (or should). Still other assumptions depend on personal experience, cultural orientation, or plain old hearsay: when cows lie down, it’s going to rain soon. Often, our assumptions are correct – or at least they appear to be. Fruit and other objects do respond to the force of gravity, at least here on Earth. Cars do break at stop signs, usually. Sometimes, however, our assumptions are wrong. When this happens in executive protection, things can go very wrong, very quickly.

Dig into almost any problem with executive protection, and you’ll find some kind assumption gone wrong. We assumed roles, responsibilities and SOPs were clear, but they weren’t clear enough. We believed the principals were happy with the level of service, but it turns out that they were just being polite or had better things to do than to give us feedback. We could go on – the list of failed assumptions is a long one – but you get the point.

On a good day, wrong assumptions and miscommunication don’t cause any serious trouble. Fortunately, most days are good. On not so good days, poor communication can result in things going seriously wrong in a variety of ways.

Poor communication compromises the quality of risk mitigation

The most critical consequence of poor communication in executive protection is, clearly, its impact on the quality of the risk mitigation. Things that should happen don’t; things that shouldn’t happen do. Information about emerging threats that should be communicated between team members gets stuck. Information that can increase our principals’ vulnerability gets out in the open rather than kept under cover.

Communication breakdowns that impair risk mitigation can occur across the entire spectrum of executive protection activities. Whether we look at people, procedures, or technology – on their own or in combination – when things go wrong, poor communication is often one of the reasons.

Poor internal communication weakens the team’s ability to deliver quality

One of the most common criticisms of management in any organization concerns communication: employees in industry after industry regularly complain that their managers aren’t very good about sharing information. Of course, we’d like to think that this is different in our industry – especially in the organizations where we’ve had management responsibility – but current and former employees might beg to differ.

Communication between team members is what makes quality standards come to life or stay in a drawer. Managers need to communicate quality expectations in clear language and encourage feedback and questions from everyone on the team to be sure that these are understood and acted on.

Sometimes, clear communication about quality creates controversy within the team. What some team members might consider their duty as part of a “see something, say something” mindset, others might call “getting thrown under the bus.” How managers resolve these conflicting perspectives – or don’t – impacts both protective quality and team cohesion.

Another communication issue concerns how observations regarding real or potential threats and vulnerabilities get sent up and down the chain of command and shared between colleagues via shift notes. When things go right, these messages get through and quality benefits. When “information is flowing like mud around here”, protective quality suffers.

Poor client-provider communication undermines protective quality (and business relations)

Client-provider miscommunication is another drag on protective quality. And it can happen at every stage of the client-provider relationship.

Let’s start at the beginning, with RFP rounds. Already here, there are multiple ways for clients and providers to talk past each other rather than connect. When a client expects comprehensive 24-7 coverage with too few agents and providers agree to it despite their reservations, communication has failed, and protective quality will suffer. When the need for sustainment training is swept under the rug, communication has failed, and protective quality will suffer.

Once the contract is signed, communication can still go wrong. Sometimes, we don’t speak up when clients (mistakenly) tell us how to do our jobs. Other times, we providers fail to explain important things in clear language. We use jargon that makes sense in the military but not in family offices or corporations. We assume principals know why we do things that might look unnecessary to them – like insisting on a backup vehicle in some situations – but we never check those assumptions or break things down for them.

Executive protection providers should not expect clients to provide us with timely and actionable feedback on our performance. They expect us to do good work, of course, so if we meet expectations, we shouldn’t expect to hear anything. The same applies if we do not meet expectations: we should not expect that busy clients will invest their time in pointing out how we can do our job better. Getting the information we need to improve our service is on us. All too often, we fail to set up reliable systems for getting and using client feedback regarding their perceptions of our quality. Even if clients don’t communicate their views proactively, we still need to get them.

Poor communication with vendors reduces their ability to deliver expected quality

Ensuring the quality of your own team’s deliveries is one thing. Working through vendors on the other side of the planet is another altogether.

Remember that “broken telephone” game where one person whispers a message to the next, who whispers it to the next, etc., and the message gets completely transformed after surprisingly few connections? Then you know how easily meaning gets lost in transmission – not to mention translation, cultural differences, and levels of commitment.

Unless providers and vendors have robust quality assurance systems that include guardrails to keep communication on track, both risk mitigation and. the client’s experience can quickly get derailed.

Poor communication stifles continuous improvement and innovation

Finally, let’s not forget that communication is not only the means to focus our attention on what is and what shouldn’t be – it can also be a way to imagine, together, what could be.

Good communication is the cornerstone of continual quality improvement, an essential aspect of any quality management system. When teams are encouraged to speak up about how to make things better, things are more likely to get better. We are also more likely to recruit and retain the kinds of people who care about quality.

We’re all responsible for the quality of our communication

The obligation to build transparency and precision into how we communicate transcends roles and titles. Ultimately, we’re all in this together, and we all have responsibility for good communication – both sender and receiver, manager and staff, provider and client.

So – what do you think? What is your experience regarding communication and quality management in executive protection? Be sure to ping us on social media and let us know!