At the root of all of the problems faced by Loss Prevention and Asset Protection officers, and the rest of the retail environment in terms of shrink, is dishonesty. Dishonesty on the part of thieves, associates, vendors, customers and management can cause problems that reach very far outside of the bounds of an LP or AP’s jurisdiction, but that affect the bubble we exist in. By which it is meant that dishonesty affects everything in terms of people’s personal decisions on both small and large scales, and both zones are important for Loss Prevention to consider. To accomplish this, study is necessary. On that path toward understanding, the reader may come across a book by Dan Ariely called The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty.
Ariely, from the MIT Media Lab, has a deep understanding of the topics of dishonesty and rationality (as can be seen at his CV here) and has written a great book on the topic of lies and dishonesty as regards both little white lies and immense financial crimes. This book, as taken from the context of a Loss Prevention career, is an invaluable resource for major study results and stories relating the studies to situations all of us encounter.
Some of the sections of the book involve discussions on the following ket topics of importance for Loss Prevention professionals:
- How getting caught, or the risk of getting caught, and the affect this has on one’s likelihood to be dishonest.
- Lies and a cost vs. benefits analysis.
- The Simple Model of Rational Crime and it’s applicability to social situations and emotional creatures.
- The affects (positive and negative) of collaboration on a persons’ likelihood and reasons to lie.
- Religion’s effect on honesty.
- The differences between deliberate personal dishonesty and a culture of dishonesty.
- Punishment vs. reward for people who are honest about past dishonesty.
- Moral reminders such as oaths and contracts.
Obviously the book has a vast amount of possible applications and career paths that shall be affected by its lessons, but from a merely loss focused point of view; some of these topics are useful on a daily basis.
For example, when any of your fellow Loss Prevention team members and other retail associates are hired they go through a manual of some sort with your HR department. This manual contains a set of rules and regulations and makes many references to the fact that the associate has a set of expectations to follow as regards personal behavior, honesty, integrity and, of course, theft. There things, along with general rules and regulations, are agreed upon by new associates and the contract is signed on a final page called a signature sheet. Ariely’s book touches upon the instance of the signature, a form of promise or oath that the associate will follow said rules, and gives examples of studies that show that, perhaps, the signature sheet should be used more often, as a sort of intermittent moral reminder. The constant, or at least occasional, use of such reminders is argued to have a positive affect on an emotional level with a team member, building a culture of honesty and trust with the company rather than a one time, offhanded agreement not to steal. He even goes as far as to suggest to the government that such uses of the form could deter minor (or major) fraud, in an example involving taxes and the simple relocation of a taxpayer’s promise signature to the beginning of a tax form rather than the end.
Another interesting section involved the country’s recent Enron scandal and how, at every level, there was some form of dishonesty and that this was a case of not a grand conspiracy on every single suspect’s part (although there certainly was a concerted effort by a few key players) but a very well-defended and financially rewarded culture of dishonesty which built itself up to be the truth. Anyone that has ever had even a few weeks experience in an office or retail environment understands that the environment is fueled by little white lies. Sales figures, attendance violations, human resources issues, operational benchmarks, personal relationships and interdepartmental disputes are all oiled with lies in order to keep the machine running. Some malicious, some not.
Bad operational attitude and follow through making your numbers look bad? It was a few bad apples who have been spoken to. Didn’t accomplish a few tasks set by regional management? Sadly, our allocated team members were misinformed about their duties regarding that issue. Not making sales? Oh, well, it was our air conditioning system malfunctioning and driving the customers away. Missing money? Petty cash spending went over budget and the receipts were thrown away. Harassment complaint? My words were misconstrued and I did not clearly explain myself.
Which of these arguments is valid? Maybe all of them are, maybe none. Sometimes, within an environment of dishonesty, you will come across these examples and more which may cloud you perception of those around you. This book can help clarify some of the reasons people lie about such things and the mental and moral justifications they go through to accomplish this. Some of it will surprise you.
The useful and informative sections in the book could go on for another thousand words; so just look into it yourselves and be the judge.
All in all, Ariely’s book is a well written and extensive look into dishonesty, presented in an easily accessible style or speaking that makes it a quick and fun read. It would behoove any serious Loss Prevention or Asset Protection agent to check this book out and add it to your library.
Good luck and Happy Hunting!
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Disclaimer: Allen Keckonen is not a lawyer. He is not even a legal representative of any sort, nor is he a member of any law enforcement agency. The work of Loss Prevention or Asset Protection is inherently risky. Any information imparted to you via this article is strictly based on knowledge, training or personal experience, not thorough teaching and education in the particular laws and restrictions of every single city/state/country the reader happens to live in. The information provided is to be taken or not taken at the readers’ own risk. Any reader should understand that, given different city/state/country laws and regulations, or even the stricter company policies most of us work under, some or all of this information could be completely out of the question for use in some retail or manufacturing environments. The reader is always encouraged to seek out local laws and company policies prior to actual implementation of any tactics or procedures suggested within this article. But it should be fairly useful for most of the readers. In fact, a lot of this info should keep you from breaking any laws or procedures.