THROUGH ADVERSITY, TO THE STARS
During World War Two, the United States, Canada, and the nations of Latin America used a lifeline of shipping on a scale the world had never seen to keep the beleaguered British Isles and the Soviet Union supplied and in the fight against Nazi Germany. This shipping, crossing the treacherous North Atlantic and breaking the blockade of the Kreigsmarine’s U-Boats was escorted by the Royal and US Navies and was manned by the merchant marine veterans and rapidly recruited ships’ crews.
Inevitably, heavy losses were incurred in ships, materiel, and men. What was also inevitable, but not yet obvious to the respective governments and Admiralties, was the demographic of the men who survived shipwreck. It was expected that the young, fit crew members would outlast the older veterans of the merchant marine – yet to many people’s surprised, the opposite occurred. The young and fresh sailors perished, while many “old salts” endured. The likelihood of a man who survived one wreck going on to continue surviving also grew exponentially, defying the expectations of those observing. Soon, the question was asked:
It turns out, that despite being well past the prime of their life, the older veteran sailors survived because they knew what to expect – what being shipwrecked felt like, how long rescue was likely to take, what to do in the sea to improve your chances. Further, the younger recruits who were wrecked with older crewmates were more likely to survive, and continue the cycle of helping newer crewmates survive. The principles learned on the icy North Atlantic led to the founding of the Outward Bound movement, and more broadly into the uptake across militaries, police, and other high-pressure professions of training for Stress Inoculation.
Studies by high performance coaching staff across elite sport, military special operations, and the private sector have discovered consistent physiological responses to stress and clear impacts on the performance of individuals. In an earlier article, we discussed the importance of coping with, or effectively reducing stress impacts to help improve critical decision making, noting an Israeli study which found decision making impaired by any stressors – whether in a candidate’s control or not – that caused overwhelm. This is the key point: not all stress is bad, nor can all stress be treated by elimination, avoidance, and substitution. It has become apparent that in order for humans to reach their optimal performance, we need to be stimulated by at least some form of performance stress, or we’ll be bored and disengaged. But if we face too much uncertainty and stress, we quickly become overwhelmed and lose our ability to perform. This idea is illustrated in the Yerkes-Dodson plot:
For most people, the physiological signs of overwhelm – that is, passing out of the eustress zone beyond optimal performance and into distress – is measured in an acute, short term situation once they exceed a heart rate of 145 beats per minute. At this point, the body’s complex motor skills begin to deteriorate, and perceptive narrowness begins through auditory exclusion and tunnel vision. We can consider the right-hand edge of the “Optimal Performance Zone” above to be at about 140bpm. Beyond that on the curve, our bodies start narrowing our options from Fight or Flight to Irrational Flight – the final stages of this being voiding our bowels (“dropping ballast”) and complete sensory exclusion.
Think back to the first time you got behind the wheel of a car – chances are it was a slow, stop-start process with a lot of guidance and intervention by an instructor or supervising driver. Especially if there were other contributing factors, like not being from a “petrolhead” family, or having been exposed to negative reinforcement (usually in the guise of “cautious” family) you are likely to have been entering the system that is driving a motor vehicle toward the Distress zone end of the bell curve. Compare that to the next few times, and eventually the day of your license test: the actual increase in information you’d learned probably wasn’t all that significant, but what had changed dramatically was your lived experience and therefore your understanding of the process and comfort in the system. The pressure of the test, and the ongoing stress of still being a learner had probably conditioned your stress threshold to be significantly higher, resulting in you reaching the leading edge of the Optimal Performance zone. Now, driving a car is probably almost automatic to many people – the dangerous end of the Calm zone where complacency or hubris can take effect.
Inoculation to Stress
What was described above is a very basic version of stress inoculation, albeit done poorly.
Stress inoculation, as mentioned in the introduction, works in a similar theory to medical vaccines in that stress related to a task, or job, should be introduced gradually, in manageable stages that complement the level of training, learning, or experience a candidate has – starting off in a fairly benign environment where learning is stress enough, through incremental changes to a point where a candidate can perform to the required standard in conditions replicating the Worst Day they could have. In the Army, this is seen through the shooting training continuum: training starts on a “sporting” marksmanship range in a very controlled environment, progresses through more intensive shooting on “flat” ranges, then to field firing in groups and teams, and finally culminating in large scale live fire “battle runs”, complete with tanks and artillery and air support.
Using the Army’s example, it would be counterproductive – not to mention criminally dangerous – to expose new recruits to the stressors of a combined arms multi day battle run before they are even confident in employing their weapon. This situation, called overwhelm is destructive to both performance, and ongoing learning, stripping away any confidence that may have been learned by a candidate. And yet this is precisely what happens in the security industry in Australia: the first experience many guards have to real world stress – be it a violent encounter, or simply environmental factors such as being isolated and alone at 3am in an industrial complex – are when they are expected to perform at job-standard.
Avoiding this overwhelm holds to key components – as we alluded to in the initial driving lessons analogy, “throwing someone in the deep end” hasn’t worked for anyone since Dawn Fraser. The inoculation of stressors and performance management must be carefully considered and applied from the outset. Secondly, the exposure to the stressors must be graduated – it’s no good going from 1 to 10 in a giant leap, as any learning will be lost in the noise of a candidate just trying to keep up.
The Neverending Story
We talk about it a lot here – because we think it is the most serious risk the security industry in Australia faces: Ongoing, continuous professional development and improvement is critical to building, maintaining, and enhancing skill and experience in any career, but especially in a client-facing, high risk service industry like security. So why doesn’t it get done? Why don’t we invest in ourselves or our staff to deliver the best we can to our clients, and ensure guards go home after every shift?
The Mindset Difference
Well, we’re actually putting our money where our mouth is. Mindset Securities believes we can embrace emerging technologies and leverage our considerable experience in the training, mentoring, and consulting fields to make a genuine difference to the performance of you, or your staff. We’re working right now to develop world-leading capabilities to not only enhance the confidence and performance of individual guards in responding to stressful incidents, but to deliver value for money to both security organisations and their clients.
We think that for too long we’ve all just accepted “It is what it is…” as an acceptable response to lack of training resources in courses, inductions, and ongoing training. We believe in you, and want to deliver the best tools to give you the best outcomes at work.
Watch this space.
Are you a security professional? Are you energised in your career prospects in the security industry?
Do you manage security operations? Do your guards have all the tools they could need to make the right impression on your clients?
This has been a brief look at the importance of stress inoculation in security training and career management – if you would like to learn more, call or email us to start a consultation with our experts.
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