Career Link: How to leave a legacy through staff development

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.

Encourage staff to participate in cross-functional projects that may not appear to have a direct security element to them. These projects will give that staff person the opportunity to interact with peers and even perhaps senior managers outside the security function in a non-confrontational context (unlike what they might experience during an investigation). It begins to give them a better flavor for the business the organization is in, and that sort of experience is invaluable.

4. Make use of internal training. Security leaders should look within their organization for opportunities to send their staff to internal training. HR departments often have a wide variety of development programs. Those are useful because they again provide the opportunity for staff to get to know people outside the security apparatus and get a sense of the organization's culture and tone, as well as the expectations of a future leader or manager.

5. Consider external growth and development programs where possible. There are many external programs out there that deal in managing personal growth. In these programs your staff members will complete self assessments that can help management identify gaps in skills, understanding, and perception of responsibilities. This type of information can help the security leader map out development programs and training, courses and classes that will address those gaps.

6. Don't neglect international employees. As organizations have become more international, many have moved from hiring expats to hiring local talent at international sites. We are seeing a lot of international talent quickly emerging, but we're also seeing that those very talented staff members are jumping from company to company every couple of years (or less) for small pay increases. In many areas they feel this is the only way to advance their careers.

It's important for corporate functions to identify emerging talent internationally and to take an opportunity to develop that talent as well. Bring them to the corporate home country for a while, make them feel they're really wanted and needed in the organization, and make them feel they don't have to jump to the next company to get ahead. I think at some point -- and we've seen this in a few organizations -- that the key performance indicator will be when the Global 1000 organizations start replacing their VPs and directors of global security with people from outside their immediate country who have been developed in the organization. If they are viewing themselves as international organizations, they should have an international footprint in staffing.

You'll notice that many of these steps don't require any investment beyond some thought and time. Yet the return on that small investment can be a lasting legacy for you and continued growth and profitability for your department and your organization.

Jerry BrennaAbout the author: Jerry Brennan is co-author of the book Security Careers, and content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council. He is also founder of Security Management Resources, the leading global executive search firm specializing exclusively in corporate security. The new edition of Security Careers includes more than 70 security job descriptions and career paths; up-to-date compensation trends for each position; tips on how to get the best compensation for yourself and your staff; comprehensive lists of certifications, member organizations and job resources; and resume tips and samples.