While some loss prevention executives have managed to become trusted advisors of top management, others remain on the outside looking in. For these LP leaders, the path to holding sway with the C-suite may seem unclear—and the road from being an intermittent disruption to a CEO’s day to becoming a regular strategic resource can appear long indeed.
Often the biggest obstacle to launching a security program or project is getting final approval from the C-suite, noted Rene Rieder, CPP, PSP, principal security specialist at Burns Engineering. Speaking at the GSX security conference in September, Rieder indicated that how a project or idea is conveyed often has as much to do with how company leaders perceive its value as the idea itself. We might wish that wasn’t the case—that a valuable project wouldn’t be rejected in the first five minutes because of poor body language or some other immaterial factor—but that doesn’t change the fact that it can, he suggested.
“Most decisions are made in those first five minutes of a presentation and are based off the abstract—the three- to four-sentence description of the project,” Rieder said, indicating that the feeling security leaders can impart in those initial minutes are critical. “To make a good early impact, you need to have good body language, demonstrate confidence in what you’re pitching, and have good support for each point you make during the initial pitch,” he said. “You also need to think about what is going to make them feel a part of your program, which typically means taking it beyond a single point of focus and conveying the bigger picture. This type of pitch tends to have more successful outcomes.”
Similar advice and warnings were offered by co-presenter J. Kelly Stewart, managing director and CEO of Newcastle Consulting, a security risk management consultancy. “When you’re trying to make your point, you must be authentic and transparent, you can be doomed by being at all fake or beating around the bush—they want you to get to your point in a clear, logical fashion,” he said.
Ultimately, the goal of a LP executive is to make themselves indispensable to executive leadership, said Stewart. How do you do that? “Translate your security knowledge into what that means for them. They don’t want the security knowledge you have. They’re not into becoming a LP professional, they are looking to know how LP knowledge impacts what they do and the decisions they need to make for their organizations.”
Executives demand a lot from functional leaders like asset protection executives, and one aspect they think is becoming more critical is change management, according to recent executive surveys. As such, LP needs to demonstrate flexibility in strategic planning, promote innovative thinkers within the security department, and show a dedication to making company change possible rather than throwing up security roadblocks to innovation. Specifically, it requires addressing security risks while permitting more agile and flexible global operations.
Another issue that CEOs are being told to concern themselves with is whether security enhancements directly speak to the threats the company faces. Reports that target CEOs often warn that misunderstanding or misdiagnosing threat is a serious risk, and that security can consume corporate resources that don’t really make the company safer or materially benefit it some other way. To address this CEO concern, any physical enhancement or new security technology proposed should be accompanied by a description of the changes in procedures or strategies that will ensure the company makes effective use of it. Business leaders know that it’s unlikely for security technology to address threats by itself. Security leaders must show them a plan for compliance, awareness, training, and other strategic and operational issues to provide confidence that they will squeeze maximum value from an investment in security technology.
But again, even good ideas may be rejected if presented poorly. Rieder and Stewart offered eight additional tips for putting LP proposals or plans in their best light and achieving trusted advisor status:
- Don’t sugarcoat. “They are only able to have faith and trust in you if they believe that you are someone who tells them the unvarnished truth,” said Stewart. “Tackle ambiguity, confront hard truths, and be completely upfront,” added Rieder.
- Be assured. “Demonstrate confidence in the value of your pitch—and if you can’t, then maybe the project isn’t worth pitching for,” said Rieder.
- Always be truthful. “Credibility is difficult to gain, easy to lose, and almost impossible to regain,” said Rieder. “So, if you’re asked something and don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them.”
- Take a point of view. “As a strategic advisor, they are paying you to have an opinion,” said Rieder.
- Demonstrate passion. “We are in a serious field, but you need to be willing to show your passion within realistic boundaries,” Stewart advised.
- Keep it simple. “Cut the fat and put things simply,” said Stewart. “Provide them solutions they can swallow and scalable to the extent that they can make a difference.” A shortcut to becoming a trusted advisor is to be direct and succinct but able to show you’ve done your homework and have the research when asked, said Rieder.
- Stay attuned with what is consuming them. “Executive leaders are always a moving target, you need to be aware of that,” said Stewart. Keep up with the papers they’re reading to see what they’re likely thinking about, suggested Rieder.
- Acknowledge feelings in the room. When making a pitch for a project, “don’t leave wondering how they felt about something,” said Rieder. “If there is a notable silence on something, go ahead and ask if they want you to elaborate on a point.”