During my career both as a security executive and now leading our global search firm, I have observed a lot of security leaders make the mistake of developing a succession plan in their mind, but failing to ensure it is in alignment with how the organization wants the function to evolve. We've had a number of searches where the person leaving or retiring felt certain that their "Number 2" was the person the organization would choose to lead the program when in fact the organization had a totally different view.
The most telling thing about this is that there is a large disconnect between the security leader and the organization's management team. Sometimes the organization simply doesn't think the leader's choice has the experience or readiness to lead. But sometimes the rift is deeper. The organization respects and appreciates the job the departing security leader has done, and readily confirms that he or she has moved the company's security efforts forward. However, as an organization, they've evolved, and so have the risks impacting them. Perhaps they have a wider international footprint, a different culture or corporate philosophy. Perhaps their expectations of the security program and its executive have radically changed. They now want a business leader who will align the program in direct support of the organization's business strategy.
Business alignment goes way beyond solving immediate problems and crises. It's very important to be cognizant of and sensitive to that fact, and to look for ways to develop staff that can continue to align with the business in the future to help move it forward. The best legacy you can have is to develop a replacement who will be even more successful than you have been, who will take the security organization to heights you only dreamed of.
Here are several actions you can take to help build and improve your staff development process.
1. Start with an assessment. As you think through your staff development process, it's critical to do an internal assessment of your department, where it fits into the corporation now, and where it will fit in the future. If you don't do that, you may end up developing tactical responses to problems while missing the bigger picture.
Once you've done that, adjust your staff development decisions to make sure that the mid-level and emerging talent in your group is being given the opportunity to learn the organization, where your program fits into it, and where it's going. This often coincides with the development of the soft skills that will allow those individuals to gain influence across the organization.
2. Take advantage of or create opportunities for staff to interact with senior management. In security it's often challenging to find the time to allow people to stretch beyond their day-to-day responsibilities or the current issue, problem or project in front of them. But it's really in the senior manager's best interest to give the emerging talent on staff the opportunity to interact with and observe interaction at more senior levels. This includes giving them projects that push their current comfort level.
It's very useful expose your staff to your peers on the senior security leadership team as much as possible. If you're the VP of security, offer an opportunity to take a staff member to a meeting and introduce him or her. Perhaps a staff member can listen in to a conversation you're having with a colleague. This will begin to give your staff exposure at a level they wouldn't otherwise experience.
3. Encourage cross-functional project participation. Just as it's important to integrate the security program into the organization and culture, it's important to ensure your staff are integrated with the organization and feel like they're a part of it. This aids in development of relationships that are critical across the organization.