Reducing risk by changing behaviour

June 2003 Security Services & Risk Management, Government and Parastatal (Industry)

Intra-organisational fraud and theft - business' single largest problem - can be cut significantly through the directed use of sophisticated group psychology and consistent follow up programmes.

So says Mariaan van Kaam, executive director of behaviourial management specialists VoiceIT South Africa, an associate of corporate security management company GriffithsReid.

International research has shown that the majority of any given workforce - 45 to 80% - are not either inherently criminal or inherently honest, and can be swayed to either criminality or honesty depending upon the environmental circumstances.


The first step for any company is to assess real risk exposure. This is an issue all to itself, as there are various dimensions of risk management, Van Kaam says. "From an HR perspective it might mean one thing, from an accounting perspective something completely different. Yet, all risk dimensions should be aligned to ensure good governance."

It is vital for the company to establish a uniform view of what its risk is. And here is the shocking part, says Van Kaam. "As far as internal fraud and theft is concerned, companies only uncover the tip of the iceberg. Reported criminality usually only represents about 10-20% of that which is actually taking place."

This means that on average, reported losses are only a fraction of the real losses a company is suffering - and this is only in physical terms, and does not include lost goodwill due to non-delivery, dissatisfied clients, and so on.

"This theft or fraud can take the form of minor items such as stationery, middle value items such as petrol, or office equipment abuse, to high-value fraud and theft incidents running into millions of rands," says Van Kaam. "Many companies have mistakenly thought they can counteract employee theft by installing ever more sophisticated physical barriers such as cameras, access controls, guarding systems and the like."

However, all these asset control measures have one critical weakness - it is not integrated with the establishment of an ethical, preventative culture. "If the staff themselves are swayed to the inherently dishonest group, then all the cameras and equipment in the world will not help," says Van Kaam, quoting a recent example of a major computer theft at a large East Rand corporate where it was found that the security cameras had been deliberately set to be out of focus and thus were useless in providing any leads.


Ultimately then the workforce attitude is vital to combating workplace crime. If the staff do not buy in to the concept of protecting the company, then no amount of control measures are going to help.

While not much can be done about those employees who are inherently dishonest, the trick is to isolate them from the rest of the workforce, or at the very least, prevent them from influencing the 45 to 80% middle group.

"We have devised a program based on behaviour-change and perception management psychology, which transforms employees so that they take pride in company and customer assets and treat them with respect, tipping the scales against those who would influence the masses in the wrong direction," says Van Kaam.

"Using a unique program developed by VoiceIT South Africa, it is possible to get staff members on board in the fight against crime within their company," she adds.

A hearts and minds program must actively involve workers by asking them for their suggestions on how to combat the problem. Not only are they the most likely people to know how workplace crime is being committed, but by recognising their contribution, a company can build a personal relationship with each worker and thereby engender a sense of company loyalty which otherwise might not be there.

In addition, reactive compliance measures must be driven by pro-active integrity based measures - facilitated and sustained through focused leadership, communication, feedback, clear standards and controls, and due reward and recognition. "It is, however, critical to obtain buy-in into the program first - from the senior managers right down to the janitors," Van Kaam says.

By addressing the human element in the workplace crime make-up, it is possible to reduce workplace crime by a significant factor. One of Van Kaam's previous successes - in a parastatal plagued by internal theft and fraud - the preventative programme achieved a 24% drop in loss incidents.

The critical ingredients for achieving this change in workforce perception are leadership, perception of management's attitude towards crime, the imbedding of a value and culture of honesty, and a system of rewards and recognition for honesty.

"The most common cause of the 45 to 80% of workers who are easily swayed, being swayed into crime, are peer pressure or managerial attitudes towards crime," Van Kaam says. "If workers deem it acceptable to steal, or if management appears unconcerned by losses, no matter how small, it becomes easier for that middle group to justify criminal activity to themselves."

"They can, however, be just as easily swayed in the other direction - and that is where our programme and real intent on the part of management not to regard employees as enemies, but as active participants in the combating of crime and the building of communal wealth, can make its greatest contribution," concludes Van Kaam.


Mariaan van Kaam is a specialist in workforce motivation and intra-organisational security. She can be contacted on 011 954 1067.

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