Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Violate Policies If Faced with Violence

Customers and staff have been killed. In a press release starting off with, “It was a very sad weekend in retail,” the National Retail Federation noted a shopping mall shooting in Amsterdam, the slaying of two grocery store employees in Minnesota, and a revenge killing at a Dollar General store in North Carolina. In addition, a clerk at a Lululemon store in Maryland was murdered just last month.
     The NRF, taking a lead from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, strongly suggests that you prepare for such incidents. Train your staff and yourself both in how to promptly evacuate the store and, if evacuation is not safe, in how to hide people in a secure area which has telephone contact.
     To this valuable advice from a law enforcement perspective, I’ll add some tips as a psychologist who has served on workplace hostage negotiation teams:
  • Train staff to be ready to violate usual policies if faced with the potential for violence. Some people become highly rigid in their thinking and behavior when under substantial stress. A tunnel-vision adherence to normal routines—such as questioning whether customers and staff should be allowed in a secured office with accessible cash receipts—can worsen the danger. Let staff know it would be okay to leave registers open, cabinets unlocked, their personal belongings ripe for theft, and so on. The policy is that there is a new policy for the duration of the emergency.
  • Along with this, be sure the training sets a clear command hierarchy and contingency plans. Decisive instructions are essential for avoiding confusion. In addition, customers and staff are more likely to follow instructions delivered with decisive authority. If hostage negotiations do ensue, the negotiator will want to want to know unambiguously who is in charge both inside and outside the area where hostages are being held. As soon as law enforcement arrives on the scene, command is to be handed over to them.
  • Regardless of how the incident is resolved, provide professional post-trauma counseling for staff. Have it available promptly. However, also realize that for some employees—especially those who became highly rigid in their thinking and behavior—the need for counseling may not arise for a few days or weeks.
     I hope this recent cluster of incidents is a statistical anomaly. Be prepared, but also keep a realistic perspective for your staff, your customers, and yourself.

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Use Psychology for Shopper Crowd Management

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