Former Cop-Turned-CEO On Improving Workplace Safety

workplace safetyIt’s 2 a.m. My partner and I, dressed in plain clothes, pull up to our favorite convenience store in need of a cup of hot coffee. We walk in, and Ryan, a clerk we know, is standing behind the counter. I notice that someone else is behind the counter with him, sitting on an overturned bucket. Someone I’d never seen before. And he and Ryan aren’t necessarily acting like friends.

As police officers, you’re conditioned to question everything and be hyper-vigilant for any hint of suspicious activity. And this seems suspicious. We keep our eyes on the activity behind the counter as we pour our coffee. I motion to my partner to stay put, and I get into position at the unknown man’s flank. Without hesitation, I draw my weapon and tell the unfamiliar man to show me his hands. He hesitates. I raise my voice and threaten to shoot. Finally, he drops the gun he is holding under his jacket and puts up his hands. Another bad guy off the street. This is just one of many situations during my law enforcement career where vigilance and awareness helped my colleagues and me prevent violence and stay alive.

In my current role, armed robbery is not much of a concern. But my days can still be fairly intense, albeit in different ways. As CEO of professional services firm Sikich, I work to expand our service offerings for clients, integrate technological advancements throughout our business, and attract and retain great talent. I’m also focused on how to ensure our more than 850 employees are safe. So, we recently worked with security consultants to develop and implement a comprehensive violence prevention program, which accounted for over 1,100 internal training hours last year.

According to the FBI, of the 250 active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000-2017, 42 percent happened in “areas of commerce,” including businesses. And, in an era with so many high-profile mass shootings, employees are understandably concerned about safety. So, CEOs need to step up. They can’t simply pay lip service to the issue. Instead, they must proactively work to construct violence prevention programs that educate employees and include clear and effective security policies and procedures.

However, CEOs must be careful and strategic when building these programs. After all, they can’t risk scaring their employees into paralysis. And they can’t expect everyone to have the mindset of a tactical officer. Here are five strategies CEOs should keep in mind as they seek to improve workforce safety:

1. Work within your culture

At Sikich, we emphasized how our employees are vigilant and attuned to their environments by nature. They’re used to listening to clients, observing their business practices and identifying ways to improve operations. Therefore, we simply asked them to apply those same skills to other aspects of their professional lives. By presenting our violence prevention training as an extension of current behaviors, we made it easy for our employees to buy into and engage with the program. When implementing a violence prevention program, CEOs should look for crossover between the new things they’re asking employees to do and what they already do as part of their work.

2. Don’t overhype catastrophic scenarios

Mass shootings are terrifying, but luckily, also rare. A company should have strict security protocols (e.g., keep all entrances to offices locked; require employees to carry ID badges), but overemphasizing catastrophic scenarios can distract from the still very dangerous situations that are more likely to happen. For instance, domestic disputes can spill over into the workplace, or an individual struggling with substance abuse or mental illness can become a threat to colleagues. So, when developing a violence prevention program, it’s important for leaders to focus training and protocols on stopping these more likely scenarios — without ignoring the more catastrophic ones.

3. Find experts, and ask questions

I’m in a unique position as a CEO because I used to wield a gun and fight crime. A CEO who has built a career entirely in the business world may not be versed on these subjects. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but that individual may be uncomfortable talking about security issues or serving as the company spokesperson on the topic. But, for a violence prevention initiative to be effective, the CEO must lead it. These CEOs should fill in the gaps in their knowledge by seeking out experts and asking questions. CEOs can go to their local police departments, find security consultants like Hillard Heintze, or even talk to people like me with a background in law enforcement. After all, while we may be competitors in business, we’re all on the same team when it comes to workforce safety.

4. Make your program dynamic

Building a violence prevention program is not a one-time initiative. These programs must be dynamic and evolve alongside security threats. CEOs should be involved at the outset and on an ongoing basis as the company reviews and tweaks its protocols and education. Part of that updating process is incorporating feedback and ensuring the educational materials and structure of the program resonates with employees. After all, without employee buy-in, a violence prevention program becomes ineffective.

5. Give employees anonymity

Many situations can be defused before they escalate into violence. But, for that to happen, employees must be vigilant and feel comfortable sharing their concerns. Company leaders can’t expect employees to bring these sometimes highly personal matters directly to managers. At Sikich, we implemented an anonymous reporting system so employees can raise safety concerns – as well as instances of harassment, fraud or ethics violations. We handle these issues in a way that respects employee privacy. As CEOs implement their violence prevention programs, they must incorporate some form of anonymous reporting.

An essential part of doing business

CEOs must show a visible and real commitment to violence prevention today. Those who do will improve workforce safety and build trust with their employees. You don’t have to have a background in law enforcement to make the safety of your employees a priority. But by helping employees become more aware of their surroundings and potential threats, you can ensure your company remains a place where individuals can thrive.

Read more: Rave Mobile CEO On The Price Of Safety In The “Me Too” Era