Making the Jump From Public to Private

Chris Weaver and Tom Mahlik explain how they have translated public-sector experience into private-sector success


This constant intelligence gathering, and the concurrent analysis that leads to new knowledge, significantly heightens the leader’s ability to understand risk on a broader scale, to see issues that are just over the horizon, and to prepare for those effectively. It also hones his or her skill in identifying sources, leveraging systems and finding relevant information quickly.

"In the private sector, however, many companies are only now just starting to understand and embrace the strategic value of the non-aggregated intelligence that exists in the business," Mahlik says. "While rigorous intelligence gathering may occur during a crisis at most companies, it is rarely considered in the normal state and may even be outsourced in certain instances."

"One of the things that inhibit long-range examinations in the private sector is the quarterly conference call with boards of directors and investors," explains Weaver. "When company leadership’s main focus is improving quarterly and semi-annual revenue reports, it often leads management to make shortsighted decisions that increase short-term profits and stock value at the expense of longer-term efficiency and revenue. While profit is not unimportant, this kind of approach further amplifies vertical, rigid bureaucracy," he adds.

"It can be hard to persuade companies to think in broader terms about the role of intelligence — who collects it, and how it gets infused — because there’s an immediate and recurring cost to build such a capacity internally," Mahlik says. "What’s the risk of not meeting my numbers for this quarter? That’s a tactical concern that could potentially, and often does, cloud longer-term operational strategies that could very well make the quarter-to-quarter risks easier to manage, predict and mitigate."

Developing new products, predicting the movement of the industry, tapping unique opportunities — none of these things can be done from a strictly tactical, profit-center outlook. A leader with public-sector experience, because of the nature of the government’s long-term planning process, will likely contribute a leadership style that demands intelligence and advocates a strategic perspective. A company that puts someone in the position to do this well understands risk as a strategic issue and values its importance. That individual has a difficult challenge: to prevail over the short-term profit motives while still respecting the need for revenue building, and to instill a sense of longer-range integration over a period of time.

 Succession Planning

One factor of long-range planning is succession planning — another valuable skill that public-sector leaders can bring. "In government it’s paramount," says Mahlik. "Often you know who the next leader in line for command will be, and as a leader you are deliberately focused on mentoring, coaching, inspiring and closely watching a number of your subordinates or others in adjacent areas for promotion. A plan is always in play to prepare them to take the lead and give them the experience and opportunities to learn at the next level. This is a lesson that is not as formal or as pervasive as it should be in the private sector security business. And the lessons of the public sector are particularly fitting in today’s industry when the costs to recruit, hire and on-board the best qualified talent are high and getting higher. Growing your own talent seems to be a wise and perhaps a more economical option," Mahlik adds.

Weaver is quick to point out, however, that while succession planning is crucial, it must be done correctly to be valuable. "There’s a difference between building someone up as a successor and giving someone a job because they are next," he says. "The fact that you have 20 years of experience in the organization may only mean you have one year of experience 20 times. Knowing a company’s culture through years of inside experience can be helpful, but it may not match the benefit of having new eyes and innovative approaches to similar goals. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t make it optimum for growth and transformation."

Companies need to be unafraid to hire outside the company if they want best of breed when the internal leaders are not there. A combination of internal and external experience may be the best recipe for success.

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