Loss prevention practitioners hoping to boost their careers were confronted with an uncomfortable truth at the 2019 NRF Protect conference in Anaheim. All that good work you’re doing? It’s probably not enough.
In a keynote presentation on career, leadership, and diversity, author and speaker Carla Harris warned LP professionals that what helps get you noticed at the beginning of your career won’t help nearly as much as your career progresses.
1. Performance currency. Harris, vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley and President Obama’s appointee to chair the National Women’s Business Council, explained that at the beginning of one’s career “performance currency” is particularly valuable. During this early career stage, work performance that exceeds the expectations of others is extremely valuable in order to gain recognition and engender good will. What you get in return from your outsized contribution exceeds what you put in. “It’s worth about $1.50 to the dollar in terms of helping to progress your career,” said Harris. But that doesn’t last.
Over time, excellent work performance becomes less valuable with respect to your career advancement. “Performance currency gradually works its way back to one dollar,” Harris said. “At this later stage, everyone always expects your good performance. It’s a case of diminishing returns.”
2. Relationship currency. As careers progress, “relationship currency” becomes far more valuable than performance currency for career advancement. “Performance currency can get you on a short list, but when your name comes up behind closed doors, you need someone who will speak up on your behalf,” said Harris. “People won’t waste their own personal currency on someone they don’t feel they really know.”
Harris said she learned this important career lesson by making mistakes early in her own career. “I thought I’d be okay by putting my head down and working hard but it’s not enough. You can’t build a career without relationships,” she said. “It was a big lesson for me.”
3. Find a sponsor. When relationship building, Harris said aspiring leaders should be looking for both “mentors”—those you trust and can have a truly open relationship with—as well as “sponsors,” people in positions of influence who will raise your name and advocate for you when the time comes.
“Your job is to pick the right potential sponsor and to go to them and make the ask for what you want,” she said. “You need to go to them and tell them, ‘I need you.’” A good sponsor is someone who has the requisite “juice” to be an effective advocate, someone who knows your capabilities, and someone who will promote you in private discussions among leadership.
Harris said a direct and proactive approach with sponsors is typically best and has served her career well. “I once went to someone and said, ‘It’s really important that I get a promotion before the end of the year,’” she said. “The only thing I can control is if I make the ask.”
Harris also advised taking up your boss on open-door invitations, especially if you’re facing obstacles to meeting your performance goals or your talents are being underleveraged. “You should go to them and explain what help you need. Ask them to have an adult conversation.”
Rather than finding a boss unwilling to help, you’re more likely to find that he or she is simply distracted with other issues yet interested in helping you succeed, suggesting that you give your superiors two or three chances to fix the situation. After that, however, you may need to take a lack of action as an organizational response. “Your ladder may be leaning against the wrong building,” she said.
4. Take risks. Finally, Harris told LP practitioners that they need to be comfortable with risk if they are committed to progressing their careers. “It’s always worth taking a risk,” said Harris. “Fear has no place in your success equation.”
We also spoke with CEOs at security executive search firms about career advancement, which yielded the following advice:
5. Multiple skill sets. A “multi-faceted” track record and skill set are keys to winning the security executive job race.
6. Customer service oriented. For those who deliver excellent customer service and build key relationships, there is plenty of opportunity.
7. Broad knowledge base. Individuals who lack a broad base of skills and knowledge will be left behind as organizations require security leaders and managers to produce more results with fewer resources. Executives that demonstrate an understanding of risk areas adjacent to security and asset protection—such as business continuity—can increase their value and enhance their job prospects.
8. Adaptability. “Adaptability is key” for security executives to prove themselves capable of leading in today’s global and dynamic world of work.
9. Motivation. A “checklist mentality” can inhibit career progression because too many intangibles influence success. A career that is in service of what truly motivates an individual is always an easier road to success.
10. Be a strategic partner. Becoming a supporting partner to management and working with management to create a strategic vision to mitigate losses has become extremely important to career advancement.
11. Continuous education. Security executives who keep current with business, with retail trends generally, and who continually redirects, reeducates, and rethinks his or her organization, will have a competitive edge and better career options in the future.