What Are You Afraid Of?

Recently, I came across a survey on the website of a security publication.  The survey asked the readers what their biggest concern was for the coming year.  The vast majority of security professionals had answered that terrorism was their biggest fear.  The poll got me thinking about the real everyday threats facing organizations.  What is the biggest threat ahead in the next year or next few years?

Certainly, terrorism is a very real risk.  There have been numerous attempts across the U.S., as well as attacks carried out overseas.  But is that the most serious or dangerous challenge facing businesses?  The better question might be should terrorism really be the focus of any risk mitigation or protection program?

It terms of probability, companies are much more likely to face crimes, such as robbery, theft or embezzlement.  Of those, embezzlement probably has the highest impact in terms of loss, with some insiders finding ways to steal millions of dollars from employers.  There is also the risk of workplace violence.  Some studies have shown a decrease in workplace violence, events such as active shooters still happen far too often.  Recently, we saw the news of a shooting at a small college campus that left seven dead and several wounded.  Active shooter cases seem to be much more frequent.

Terrorism response by most businesses is fairly limited as well.  Understanding your specific potential of being the target is important, as is training on identifying suspicious activity, such as surveillance.  The best approach for most enterprises is to develop solid business continuity plans and emergency response to survive a wide range of disasters.

Assuming you have disaster planning as part of your protection plan, the focus then shifts to the everyday and most common threats facing the organization. 

Globalization is one risk.  With growing instability in many parts of the world, there are increasing risks.  Supply chains are one critical element.  Social unrest or labor protests can interrupt or stop shipment of key supplies.  Austerity measures in countries like Greece, have led to protests in which transportation workers and drivers have walked off the job or gone on strike.  Truckers and subway workers in France have done the same thing in the past.  As long as there is growing concern over cutbacks and the disparity of wealth, protests such as this will continue. 

Closer to home is the concern over technology.  As a society, we are more and more dependent on technology from emails, texts and document sharing.  Smart phones to desktops, we are surrounded by high tech.  What are the risks from any interruption in service?  Loss of data, malware, denial of service attacks are some examples.  There are risks that are more ordinary as well.  What about the loss of productivity with changes in software or equipment?  Changing procedures, training staff on new ways of doing their jobs, and, the often overlooked, making sure the new processes work as intended, all can create downtime and lost productivity.  The time lost in re-learning basic tasks to use new technology can be a very real factor.

The greatest risks, though, may be in the fundamentals.  Poor leadership, bad customer service and lack of capital are the primary reasons that businesses fail.  Leaders that fail to set good direction or who make poor decisions steer organizations or their departments straight into failure.  This includes bad judgment, such as missing warning signs, changes in the market or perhaps not realizing that the team is not delivering what they need to.

 Every organization has customers and every employee needs to remember that.  The customer may be internal, such as the cleaning crew keeping the office sparkling and sanitary or it may be the cashier interacting face to face with external customers.  All customers, internal or not, have expectations that need to be met.  Failing to do so or doing it with a poor attitude, poor service or in a way that is uncaring will not work for long and will not be tolerated.  Once you’ve lost your customers, you cannot survive.

Lack of customer support and failure to lead effectively will certainly create a lack of capital.  Without resources, there is no ability to remain or regain competitiveness, develop programs to improve operations or even, in some cases, be able to pay employees.

And coming full circle back to terrorism, for those whose role is to provide security or protect the workplace, missing the fundamentals will mean not being able to do your job.  If your biggest fear is terrorism, then keep your focus on the basic day-to-day operations in order to be successful at the ultimate goal.


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit http://www.businesskarate.com. 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at eric@businesskarate.com. 


  1. Well said, Eric.

    Fear of terrorism has had a pernicious effect on business leaders and security profession for a decade now. Many of our peers bought in to it and have unwisely leveraged it to advance their organizational interests.

    Fear of workplace violence - as commonly used to mean mass murder by a co-worker - is less common than most think. The ~500 homicides at work each year are half what they were at their peak in the 1990s and more than 2/3 of them are still the result of robbery homicides, rather than co-workers gone amok.

    In our growing service economy creating an client-focused, employee-centered enterprise is something every employee, manager, executive, and entrepreneur can strive to accomplish every day. As you point out, failure to do so will almost certainly result in business failure, loss of vital services to the community, and financial disruption at home.

    Be well, Michael

  2. Michael - you are right about workplace violence being a relatively low cause of homicides at work. More common are other, non-fatal, assaults that lead to low morale, productivity and can increase turnover. Healthcare is a great example with violence being a daily occurrence in our ERs and mental health facilities.

    Of course, it only takes one robbery or workplace murder to ruin your day...