It’s Time To Get Serious About Quality Management In Executive Protection 1024 683 ESLNA
quality management executive protection

It’s Time To Get Serious About Quality Management In Executive Protection

Is the executive protection industry ready to talk openly about quality? We think so. In this blog, we discuss the reasons why the drive for quality has been underprioritized in EP, explore the essentials of quality management, and illustrate the potential benefits of better quality management systems in enhancing the EP industry’s future.

Over the past 10-15 years, the executive protection industry has grown significantly. There are now more programs than ever, and more are people working in the industry than ever before. We’ve made significant progress towards professionalization through more and better training opportunities, greater knowledge sharing and networking opportunities through organizations such as ASIS and IPSB, sharper competition from providers big and small, and growing awareness and scrutiny from customers looking for our services. There are even efforts underway to establish standardization and accreditation benchmarks – something that’s been argued for and against for years and will likely soon become more concrete and, hopefully, beneficial for clients and providers alike.

While it’s clear that professionalization has significantly improved many aspects of our industry in recent years, it’s less certain that the quality of executive protection services has seen the same evolution. Is the quality level of EP generally better now than it used to be, the same, or not as high? Of course, we’ve got our opinions and you have yours…but who has the answer to this question, really? Is it we, the providers, or is it our principals and their organizations? How would anyone really be able to know when there are no objective criteria to benchmark against, and an EP company’s reputation for quality is only as good as its latest program, detail, or night shift?

 

Can quality in executive protection be quantified?

Quality can be tricky to quantify, particularly within service industries like executive protection.

When we talk about quality in a product-based industry, metrics are pretty straightforward. It’s about how efficiently you can churn out flawless widgets. In service industries, however, we’re selling experiences, not widgets. The question isn’t only whether our product can do x, y, and z, but also how our customer feels when our team does x, y, and z.

It’s hard enough to measure widgets’ defect rates and production efficiency. In the EP industry – where quality management can be as elusive as knowing whether our protective services are effective even when no immediate threats are present and as hard to define as entry-level agents wearing the right colored socks and abstaining from certain comments – measuring quality can be downright difficult. But that doesn’t mean that quality management in EP is impossible or shouldn’t be pursued. It simply means we might have to try harder.

 

Why aren’t more EP providers managing quality?

One major factor contributing to the underutilization of quality management in the EP industry is resistance to change. In our industry, like many others, getting stuck in traditional ways of doing things is all too common. It’s not just that many in our industry have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. It’s also that far too few providers think about program quality proactively; rather, they reactively focus on service quality only once they get into trouble. As the industry matures and competition intensifies, also this will change.

Another explanation for the industry’s slow adaptation of quality management has to do with standardization and accreditation. The lack of universally agreed standards in the EP industry hampers the implementation of simple quality management systems. Some worry that when and if these standards do get established, they might set the bar so low that the lowest common denominator becomes the norm – not the highest achievable quality. At any rate, when there are no obvious ways of benchmarking or clearly defining best practices, designing quality management systems for EP services is more difficult than determining whether a widget conforms to prescribed tolerances. But “difficult” doesn’t mean impossible. It just means that we, as an industry, haven’t yet tried hard enough.

 

The future of executive protection will also be about differentiated quality…

The future of executive protection will surely be characterized by many new combinations of people, processes, and, not least, technology. It will probably also see plenty of growth worldwide. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we feel confident in making another fairly simple prediction: quality will play an increasingly important role as the EP industry continues to mature.

For one thing, we’ll see that perceptions of quality in executive protection will become more differentiated. Instead of competing primarily on things like price or scalability, providers and clients will increasingly become aware of and focus on quality parameters. The result will be a competitive landscape that is more clearly demarcated by the perceived quality of protective services. We’re not there yet, not least because the quality parameters of executive protection are still difficult for most people to articulate or compare. This, too, will change.

Consider the car industry as an illustration of more easily understandable quality differentiation. There is a market for all kinds of production cars, from Lamborghini Venenos (up to $4 mio.) to Kia Rios (as low as $16k) – and many, many other options in between. Sure, you pay more for a high-end brand, cutting-edge bells, whistles, and top speeds, but they all get you from A to B. The difference? The experience of perceived quality. That doesn’t mean Lamborghinis are “good” cars and Kias are “bad” cars. They’re both great cars for their target customers. It just means that different customer segments want and are willing to pay for different things. As long as enough people find that cost and perceived quality are in balance, both cars have a market for.

The executive protection industry has not yet matured to the degree that the automotive industry has. We don’t see the simple tables that car brands use to compare their features and prices in RFPs for EP services. In fact, it’s no wonder that customers have a hard time distinguishing the quality of executive protection services when many providers also struggle to do the same. More widespread use of solid quality management systems will help both executive protection customers and companies articulate their perceptions of quality and will lead to a market for our services that is more differentiated according to more broadly shared quality parameters.

…and better quality management systems

In addition to vehicles, car manufacturers are also famous for their quality improvement and management systems. Many other industries have also worked to adapt things like Six Sigma, Kanban, kaizen, and ISO 9000, and the executive protection industry can do the same. We won’t go into all of that here, but we will give our own dumbed-down version of what many of these approaches have in common.

At a very simple level, quality management is all about managing expectations: saying what you’re going to do, and doing what you said you’d do.

When quality expectations are not met in executive protection, it’s due to one of two reasons. Or, unfortunately, both:

  • Customer expectations were not made clear enough or understood well enough: We think the responsibility to ensure this doesn’t occur is on us, the providers. If we don’t go the extra mile to understand the principal’s needs for not only physical security but also for reputational security and productivity – all in a way that aligns with his or her lifestyle preferences – then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Of course, other stakeholders (e.g., significant others and family members, EAs, procurement and accounts payable departments, to mention just a few) have expectations that we will need to understand and meet, too. This example of failed expectations also includes situations where providers agree to provide Lamborghini levels of protection on Kia budgets.
  • Customer expectations were understood, but providers failed to meet them due to poor talent, training, or management: Again, this one is on us. Of course, things like rock-solid standard operating procedures are part of this. But so is recruiting and developing the people who carry out the SOPs. Ultimately, this comes down to the quality of leadership in designing and delivering the best possible mix of people, processes and technology for the agreed budget. Unfortunately, some providers promise Lamborghini programs but their quality management is far below the standards that Kia faithfully delivers for more than a million cars annually.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your views on quality management in executive protection, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ping us on social media and stay tuned for more blogs.