Giving Them the Business
Print Issue: July 2016
Align with the corporate strategy. Partner with business units. Keep on top of industry trends. Adopt and integrate technology. Serve as a strategic advisor. Generate a return on investment. Exercise influence in the C-suite. Stay relevant.
These are but some of the objectives of senior security leaders who see their traditional role as a security provider evolving into a strategic risk management function. And business schools around the globe are responding to the demand for financial, management, persuasion, and leadership skills by developing executive education programs.
What do security professionals truly learn in these programs? And, more importantly, how do they take their new knowledge and skills and actually put them into use in the workplace? A Security Management staff member participated in one such course—as one of 20 students in the Wharton/ASIS Program for Security Executives, which was held in November 2015. A few months later, we reached out to students from the course—as well as alumni from the earlier iterations of the program—to see how the course benefited them and their companies. Here are some of the key topic areas, takeaways, and real-world applications.
The ability to sell ideas is the strongest predictor of success, according to Mario Moussa, who runs the ASIS Wharton program and serves as codirector of the Wharton Strategic Persuasion Workshop. The skill of persuasion is more valuable than intelligence and personality traits.
Selling ideas is what drew many security professionals to the course. It seemed that every student faced the challenge of making the case for security to the C-suite.
Moussa emphasized that success at persuasion is based on winning trust. “How do you build trust?” Moussa asked. “Do what you promise. Spend time with people and listen carefully to what they are saying. Don’t do side deals. Be honest. Share common experiences.” He said that most communication should consist of listening to the other person, considering their views, and trying to connect with them.
Moussa recommends researching people’s interests and appealing to them via the most powerful one. For example, Steve Jobs was able to woo Steve Wozniak to Apple from Hewlett-Packard not by promising riches, but by fulfilling Wozniak’s long-held desire to own his own business.
Almost every student who responded for this article has implemented Moussa’s strategic persuasion techniques on the job. Markus Summers, assistant vice president in the Law Enforcement Unit at the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, Virginia, was an immediate adopter. “I’m always negotiating the level of security and services for people in context of the cost to the bank,” Summers says. “Every conversation is an opportunity to use strategic persuasion.” Before he enters an important discussion, Summers will ask himself whether he has built sufficient trust and rapport. During the actual discussion, he strives to establish a connection and understand the other party’s needs.
He has also instructed his staff to analyze issues using the PCAN method that he brought back from Wharton: (define the) Problem; (explain the problem’s) Cause; (offer an) Answer; and (provide a summary of the) Net benefits (of the proposed answer). Using that PCAN method, Summers and his team recently took on a problem involving apparent anomalies in the bank’s access control data. By going through this simple yet effective rubric, security was able to determine that human data input errors accounted for the anomalies and that there were no problems with the access control software itself. The solution involved adjusting the process for data entry.
One student, a senior security manager at a pharmaceutical firm in the northeastern United States, also put strategic persuasion skills to immediate use. Just before leaving to take the class, the manager created a presentation for the company’s executive steering committee on the value of executive protection. “My approach was to highlight how they were big targets of criminals and to play on their concern for their physical safety,” he says. But upon returning from the program, he revamped the presentation to focus on the business impact of losing a top decision maker and the resultant financial and reputational risk. “Putting the cost of the proposed program in the perspective of financial loss made my case much stronger,” the manager says.
In fact, the case was so persuasive that the steering committee asked security to implement an executive driver program within two days. And the steering committee, which previously questioned the value of some security programs, has also expanded executive travel security to more areas of the world, the manager says.
Alumni from previous iterations of the course have also adopted strategic negotiation techniques on the job. Consider Ray Nicosia—who took the course in 2014—of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that administers exams such as the SAT and GRE.
You would typically find metal-detecting wands at stadiums, schools, large public gatherings, and perhaps hospitals. But at testing centers? That was the implausible case that Nicosia, the executive director, Office of Testing Integrity at ETS, had to make to his superiors.
The case was difficult. ETS’s 25,000 testing centers in 192 countries around the world were not having a problem with guns or weapons. However, Nicosia understood that integrity and credibility are fundamental to ETS’s success and essential to its brand. The problem was that students were cheating by communicating with each other through their cell phones. Some students are so proficient at texting that they don’t even need to look at keypads. Though it was against the rules, students would sneak in smartphones anyway. His solution: metal-detection wands at test center entrances to locate and confiscate cell phones during the exams.
But Nicosia realized that asking for wands at 25,000 test centers was a nonstarter. In 19,000 of those centers, hundreds of students at a time take paper-based SATs, and the cost of wands, extra proctors, and training was prohibitive. Plus, there would be no place to safely store dozens of high-priced phones. Fortunately, cheating via smartphone was less of a problem in paper-based centers because proctors had excellent line of sight in open classrooms.
At ETS’s 6,000 computer-based centers, however, test takers are shielded on three sides, by a wall and two partitions. It was much easier to escape the attention of proctors. In addition, Nicosia says, computer test centers are small, typically accommodating no more than 15 students. Each center would need to train and equip only a single proctor, who could also easily collect and store smartphones.
Nicosia used strategic persuasion to overcome the objection that wands imposed cost without adding the organization’s bottom line. He made his case by emphasizing the potentially incalculable reputational damage caused by cheating, as well as the intellectual property theft arising from students photographing test questions and selling or sharing them.
Introduced in October 2015, the wands have been a success. “It’s been a big investment in wands, training, staff time, and follow up,” Nicosia says, but management considers it “money well spent.”
Jaded Hollywood-types quip that “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Wharton Professor G. Richard Shell, who conducted a full-day negotiation workshop, would agree with the first part of that statement. Credibility, evidenced via a reputation for reliability and integrity, is the most important quality of a negotiator, he says. And the best negotiators have the following three traits: a willingness to engage in systematic planning and preparation; high expectations; and information skills, including questioning, listening, knowledge of subject matter, and the ability to frame issues.
Active listening has been correlated with success. Shell points to studies showing that skilled negotiators spend more than 20 percent of their negotiating time asking questions—double the figure for average negotiators. Superior negotiators also spend twice as much time testing their understanding of their negotiating partner’s position and summarizing that position.
After breaking down the art of negotiation, Shell distributed backgrounder packets and plunged students into groups of two or more to enact bargaining scenarios. Negotiations involved a commodity deal for pheasant eggs, the purchase of a rare volume of poetry from a book dealer, and a contract fee dispute. The three transactions required different considerations and skills, and perceptive negotiators noticed that each case involved issues beyond money: relationships, reputation, future business prospects, and conflicts of interest.
The range of outcomes closely reflected the results of assessments of persuasion styles that each student received after completing a questionnaire. Based on their responses to this questionnaire, students were classified as collaborators, competitors, accommodators, or conflict avoiders.
Interesting patterns emerged in the various negotiations. If the value of the item or service couldn’t be easily determined, whoever mentioned a price first typically got the worst deal. In addition, confirmation bias came into play. Negotiators who saw the negotiation as a single transaction—as most of the students did—concluded that one transaction. The few who foresaw or sought relationships were able to establish relationships.
One win-at-all-costs CSO routinely extracted concessions that went well beyond the scenario but may have destroyed future relationships. Others flirted with lose-lose results. In a situation involving multiple negotiators for pheasant eggs, one seller was poised to reject a beneficial deal—and take a financial loss that according to the scenario might threaten his job—simply to stymie a purchaser who had misled him in the negotiations. As Shell explained later, emotion usually precedes thought, and “we are generally slaves to our emotions.”
Students have taken these skills and lessons back to their employers. The senior security manager at the pharmaceutical company was interested in purchasing a tool that trawls social media sites and pulls out posts associated with specific risks, but the product far exceeded security’s budget. Using creative negotiation skills he had honed at Wharton, the manager says he negotiated a much lower price for the tool by helping the vendor adapt it to the corporate security industry, making it easier for the vendor to sell to other security departments and organizations.
Because successful negotiations require heavy preparation, patience, discipline, good listening skills, creativity, and flexibility, it is a tough area to master. That’s why security executives should make the effort, Shell says. “If negotiations are one of your critical competencies, you will get better and more interesting work.”
A maxim in law and politics says that whoever frames the argument wins the argument. As axiomatic as that might sound, business people often overlook it. In a session on critical thinking, adjunct faculty member Jim Austin portrayed how successful thinkers and negotiators routinely set themselves up for success by focusing on how to frame an argument to their best advantage. The typical person spends only 5 percent of critical thinking and discussion time on framing, whereas research by decision-making scholar Paul Schoemaker indicates that around 20 percent is optimal.
Even after appropriately framing an issue, however, people fall prey to gathering only information that supports their thesis, otherwise known as confirmation bias. Later, groupthink fools people into attributing successes to their thesis and disregarding failures as due to outside factors. This is known as attribution bias.
Consider the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. One of the many problems included how Morton Thiokol engineers—who were in charge of the construction and maintenance of the craft’s solid rocket boosters—framed their analysis of the relationship between temperature and failure of O-rings (which sealed joints in the rocket boosters). Morton Thiokol and NASA examined only the seven launches that had suffered O-ring problems—not 17 others where they had functioned correctly. Had they looked at the full data set, they would have noticed that the Challenger was almost certain to fail given that the anticipated temperature at liftoff was in the danger zone. They were the victims of their own poor framing—or bounded thinking—according to Austin.
The takeaway is that the best thinkers question core assumptions, consider disruptions that could influence these assumptions, and think carefully about what signals they consider and which ones they discard or overlook. Effective leaders, says Austin, leverage perspectives inside and outside their organizations to avoid confirmation bias.
One student, Jim McDonald, CPP, senior director, global security and safety for Activision Blizzard, noted that his firm has such a process in place to prevent confirmation bias from infecting corporate investigations. At Activision Blizzard, he says, multiple teams, including business intelligence, cyber, legal, and public relations, examine the elements of the investigation from various angles.
Other students discussed faulty assumptions in light of the November 2015 Paris theatre attacks, which occurred two days before the Wharton course started. One student recalled assuming that French representatives of his company would work through the night to locate all its employees. But the French employees were prepared to wait until the following morning to continue the process. Meanwhile, a student said that at his company, which has a very can-do culture, Paris-based executives and lower-level staff alike worked through the night to muster their staff.
At the foot of the statue commemorating the site of the Gettysburg address, 20 security professionals, a battlefield guide, and a professor of business pondered leadership lessons that emerged both from Lincoln’s historic address and from the Civil War battle that tipped the scales in favor of the North 153 years ago this month.
It turns out that the challenges posed in the crucible of war have many contemporary analogs in today’s business world. Why didn’t Confederate General Richard S. Ewell take the crucial high ground, including Little Round Top, when he had the chance? How did Union General George Meade quickly gain the trust of his officers after being appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac just three days earlier?” And how did Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain manage to get disgraced and hostile mutineers back in the service of the Union army?
Such questions are highly relevant to leadership skills germane to business professionals, explained Professor Michael Useem, director, Center for Leadership and Change Management at Wharton. These skills include clear communication, mentoring and professional development, emotional intelligence, and motivation.
In fact, Useem, who accompanied the security professionals on a leadership tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield challenged the students to apply battlefield lessons to their own professional lives.
One student who had spent years in the military spoke about the power of camaraderie and the advantage bestowed by liking the people you work with. That, in turn, engenders loyalty; loyal troops will do anything to support their leader. Another student mentioned that the biggest challenges often arrive when you are not fully prepared—the Confederate and Union armies met up accidentally at Gettysburg—and that an effective leader should not waste time bemoaning the situation but rather manage on the fly.
The best leaders make their followers part of a larger mission, convey a clear vision, and treat them with dignity, one student noted. For example, 120 mutineers from the 2nd Maine Infantry had been scorned, abused, and starved at Gettysburg. To bolster his meager forces, Chamberlain—who was leading a different Maine regiment—won them over by feeding them and treating them with respect. He then reinvigorated their fighting spirit by making them part of the mission.
Another student emphasized the power of language and clarity of communication. General Ewell did not charge to seize the Union high ground because General Lee’s orders were to take Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill “if practicable.” Stonewall Jackson, whose death elevated Ewell into his former role, would have taken the same language as a command, says Useem. The lesson is that managers with specific expectations need to set crystal clear goals for staff. A second takeaway is that developing staff through mentoring is critical. Jackson never bothered to train Ewell, an oversight that may have determined the outcome of the war, says Useem.
Other comments touched on the ability to motivate followers using a variety of communication styles, as well as the power of explaining to staff why they are being asked to accomplish a task—beyond explaining what the task is and how it could be executed. That inclusion creates buy-in and focuses and energizes team members.
ASIS Chief Global Knowledge & Learning Officer Michael Gips can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @mikegips.