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Matching Corporate Security with Startup Culture

How a friendly demeanor and a de-escalation mindset helps Corporate Security teams assimilate with startup culture and earn the trust of millennial employees

Adapting to Start Up Culture

Step into most start‐ups from the Bay Area to Brooklyn and what do you see? Mostly millennials, working in vibrant open workspaces that encourage collaboration and informality. You won’t see many suits and ties, and you won’t see the stereotypical corporate security guard many people think of, i.e. the overweight mall cop or the intimidating secret service look alike.

By contrast, we’ve found the best way to put a client’s employees at ease and earn their trust is to connect with their culture while keeping obvious professional boundaries. For one particular startup in New York, our corporate security team ditched their suits for blue jeans and replaced their “sirs” and “ma’ams” — which many of our clients still favor — with first names and casual greetings.

By respecting and adapting to their more open culture, our team became more approachable. Consequently, when employees would observe a potentially hostile, uncomfortable, or unsafe situation, they now felt comfortable notifying a member of our corporate security team.

Potentially Volatile Situation

David:

One morning a few weeks into my tenure at that New York startup, our building security (think ‘mall cop’) called me about a visitor in the lobby. Because the visitor’s name was not on the schedule, I sent a quick Slack message asking if anyone was expecting him. When I confirmed no one knew who he was, I stood up and moved toward the door.

As I got up, I sensed a change in my colleagues. Although it had never happened to this office, they knew other offices in the building had received inappropriate visitors. Someone asked, “Do we have a situation?” I assured them I was handling it. Another person joked, “Lookout, I think David is going to go kick this guy’s ass.” As I walked out, people behind me were speaking in hushed tones. All eyes were off their screens and on me.

As I entered the lobby, I identified our visitor. Middle aged, sweaty, disheveled, and wearing a scowl across his face — he did not match the upbeat culture permeating throughout this trendy millennial workspace.

Walking towards him, I scanned his hands and waistline, looking for any indications of a weapon. With a warm smile, I introduced myself as a “manager” at the company and said, “I understand you would like to speak with someone from our company. How can I help you?”

Due to his appearance and demeanor, he likely received a less than friendly response from the lobby security guard, and seemed to appreciate the respect I gave him. As I tried to place him at ease, he began to open up. He told me his name, about subscribing to the client’s services, and that he was in New York for a few weeks before returning to the UK. He went on and on, frequently repeating himself, and often making no sense at all. Yet the entire time, I listened, nodded, and took notes. In short, I took him seriously.

After a long ten minutes, I assured him that I would pass all this information onto the appropriate people. Now smiling, he told me, “I just wanted to speak with somebody face to face.” He shook my hand, thanked me, and then walked right out the door.

Returning to my desk, my office colleagues peppered me with questions: “What did he say?” “What did you say?” “What did he want?” I think many expected fireworks – an argument, a physical confrontation, or even NYPD handcuffing the man and stuffing him in the back of a patrol car. All they got was… nothing. A potential assailant who voluntarily left the property.

As I answered their questions calmly, I could tell a “light bulb” had gone off. At that moment, they began to understand the role of corporate security and our ability to deescalate potentially volatile situations – often without using physical force. They were happy to have me on the team, happy I reduced their liability, and happy to include me in their culture – now appreciating my commitment to protect that culture.

John Brereton is a Regional Director within the Protective Security Division at Gavin de Becker & Associates. He has led residential, corporate security, and close protection teams in the Middle East, Europe and Asia and during special events, including the 2017 presidential inauguration. John is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

David Morgenstern is a Manager within the Risk Management Division at Gavin de Becker & Associates. Prior to joining our firm, David served as a Commissioned Officer in the United States Marine Corps, where he led security missions in Afghanistan. David is based in New York City.

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