Like anything else with many moving parts, executive protection programs are subject to wear and tear and even the occasional breakdown. Sometimes the causes of our problems are hard to spot and prevent, as when a car that gets a flat from the one nail on miles of road. In most other situations, however, proactivity pays, and we’re reminded of old proverbs like “a stitch in time saves nine” and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Engineers typically distinguish between three different approaches to maintenance. As we’ll see, we can use these in executive protection, too, but preventive maintenance is what deserves the most focus.
1. Breakdown maintenance: Fixing things that fail
Just as sharp nails puncture brand new tires, bad things can also happen to good executive protection teams. When breakdowns occur – whether to people, processes, or technology –they need to be fixed. But that doesn’t mean that breakdown maintenance should be the only approach to upkeep.
Waiting for things to break and then replacing them is rarely the most optimal strategy. Whether we’re talking about machines or executive protection programs, in the long run relying on breakdown maintenance creates more unpredictable and longer downtime and is more expensive than preventive maintenance.
2. Preventive maintenance: Inspecting and servicing things to prevent sudden failure, and finding and fixing small problems before they become big ones
There are many good reasons to embrace a proactive approach to executive protection program maintenance. First and foremost: preventive maintenance significantly reduces the probability of program failure. While the principal’s productivity might be the first victim of poorly maintained programs, in the extreme, program breakdowns put the safety of the principals at risk.
But preventive maintenance makes good sense in executive protection for other reasons, too:
- Poorly maintained executive protection programs cost time, money, and other headaches – including careers.
- Changes in the threat landscape and new technology require ongoing adaptations.
- Preventable protective team failures, both large and small, erode the trust that is so critical to program success.
- Preventive maintenance saves downtime and money compared to breakdown maintenance, but it also gives more predictable downtimes because program maintenance is scheduled, not haphazard.
- Develops people: Doing preventive maintenance keeps managers’ and agents’ focus on what’s important and builds skillsets and people.
Of course, preventive maintenance is not free, so how can you determine if it is worth the time and effort? There is a simple cost-benefit calculation: preventive maintenance makes good economic sense when its costs are lower than not doing it.
3. Predictive maintenance: Improving people, processes, and technology to make preventive maintenance even better
Manufacturing companies use predictive maintenance strategies to determine the best time to perform corrective maintenance. Unlike time-based preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance uses data and analytic processes to carry out “just-in-time” fixes, letting machines run for as long as possible before deciding to stop and maintain them. This optimizes machine uptime.
Examples of this in executive protection are not obvious, mostly because collection and analysis of data in the industry have not yet become common. We believe this can and will change in the future when adaptation of apps like ProtectionManager becomes more common.
The four pillars of preventive maintenance in executive protection
There are at least four concrete issues executive protection managers should consider as essential to preventive maintenance.
Training: Perishable skills need regular maintenance to stay in working order, and sustainment training is a critical component of preventive maintenance in executive protection.
As this is something we’ve written about extensively in a previous blog, we won’t dig further into that here.
Quality control: Quality control provides managers with the awareness of what is working and not working and is a cornerstone of any preventive maintenance program. If you are going to fix a little glitch before it balloons into a big mess, you need reliable ways of discovering and assessing all the little problems. That’s why ongoing assessments of team performance and readiness are so essential.
Many (but unfortunately far from all) contemporary executive protection programs are looking for formalized and intentional quality control procedures. Since there is no one, recognized international standard for executive protection, each program must develop its own quality control process.
We believe that a good model to emulate is the ISO standard for quality management systems, ideally tweaked to make them most relevant to executive protection. ISO provides time-honored, international processes that are easily understood and recognized by the businesses we serve. Reliable QC systems do more than manage quality, however. They also align frames of reference between principals, other stakeholders in client organizations, and executive protection providers – and improve quality engagement between providers and clients, as we will see below.
HR development: Executive protection is a people business, and no principal wants anything but the best people to provide it. That means that talent recruitment and development are essential parts of program maintenance.
Very few Fortune 500 HR departments have much experience with executive protection agents or managers, who are often shoe-horned into standard “Individual Contributor” or “Program Manager” categories. This is understandable, as HR departments rightly prioritize the core competencies deemed critical to their commercial success and not niche expertises like personal protection. But this is also unfortunate because it takes domain expertise as well as HR savvy to build executive protection-focused personnel evaluations and career plans that are such critical elements of preventive maintenance.
Quality engagement with the client organization: Setting up and keeping up effective ways to engage with client organization is also good preventive maintenance practice. When providers and clients regularly share expectations and evaluations, especially against agreed quality parameters, it is much easier to stay aligned and prevent program failure.
“Why are you here?” and “What does your team do, anyway?” are not questions that executive protection teams like to hear. Nonetheless, they need to be prepared to answer them upfront and whenever they are brought up by the principal or people in the principal’s orbit. Quality engagement makes the asking of such questions less relevant.
Effective and regular communication of the features, benefits, and value-add of the protective program are essential for maintaining transparency and trust. Formalizing and scheduling this communication, for example in quarterly business reviews, is an invaluable component of preventive maintenance.
What do you think? Any experience with preventive maintenance that you want to share? Ping us on social media!