In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser, along with Consultant Bray Wheeler, discuss making yourself important as your organization’s security, continuity, resilience, or disaster recovery leader.
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- Episode #21: I hope you dance
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- Episode #84: Making the case to Leadership
Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath.
Bray Wheeler: This is Bray Wheeler, Consultant here at Bryghtpath.
Bryan Strawser: In today’s episode we’re going to talk about the idea of making yourself important as leaders in these fields around resilience that we focus on here. Security, crisis management, business continuity, intelligence, crisis communications. I’ll start off by saying I had a friend in my previous company, we grew up together in the organization. We were close friends, kind of fell out a little bit and got back, came back into each other’s circles when he was fighting cancer. Unfortunately the person I’m talking about, Josh Harden died in 2011. Josh had a couple of different sayings and one of them was that as a leader in the security world, and that’s what we were doing at the time, that you have to find ways to make yourself important, that you have to be willing to make yourself important. He always illustrated that through a story about you can’t wait for your ticket to the dance.
Bryan Strawser: You just have to show up which would be a very Josh way of saying that you need to make yourself important, that you need to be willing to go out and proactively engage. I would say, as you know, I’ve spent almost 30 years now in this field, I would say that there’s a lot of times I see leaders who, yes, we’re all in support functions but we’re also in very important support functions. In a lot of cases that we’re not willing to dance, we’re not willing to go out there and put ourselves out and be aggressive in an appropriate way about advocating for what we need in terms of resources and personnel and doing the right thing by your team. I mean, those kinds of things are hard. I think sometimes we think, well, I’m a support function so I’m just going to hide here in my corner and no one will bother me. That’s no way to move forward, move your company forward or to advance the careers of your team or do the right thing by your organization.
Bray Wheeler: Sure. Well, I mean, it’s hard enough when you’re a profit center for an organization to go make requests for resources and capital and all that other stuff. It’s really hard when it’s a support function because you almost feel guilty walking into those conversations going, I need resources, I need this, I need this to help. I think part of that complexity there is a lot of the stuff it’s not organic business type things that people in the organization intrinsically get. It’s real hard. It’s kind of its niche kind of specialty things that once you get it aren’t hard, but on the surface kind of looking in, it can be a little intimidating on their part and thereby, do we really need it or how important is it? You know, that kind of stuff. We don’t know who’s probably listening to this podcast. This stuff is real important. You should make it real important.
Bryan Strawser: In doing so you should make yourself important. I feel like I see this a lot in two specific disciplines. I see this in what I would think of as general security, corporate security endeavors. I see this just as much in business continuity where leaders simultaneously complain about not having the things that they want or need or not getting the respect they think they deserve in the organization. Then at the same time not being willing to engage in the things you need to do in order to obtain those resources. I feel like that comes up a lot. Often, I think rather that we’ve just made some of this too complicated. I think one of my common sayings that I got from my wife’s friend, Fred Klapetzky, who she used to work with it at Ernst & Young. Fred would say, business continuity is not rocket science. As a leader in business continuity, your challenge is not deciphering the rocket science, but it’s really about how do you market this internally to your organization to make it important, and in doing so you’re making yourself important.
Bray Wheeler: To demonstrate the value of what it brings to that business process, that function of the company, to the company itself.
Bryan Strawser: I remember early in my career with our previous organization where, man, I couldn’t have been with the company for a year yet. I was in a retail store and I was in a security function, plainclothes security function. My job was to catch shoplifters and deter other kinds of incidents. Morning huddle before the store opened, the leader on duty was like, hey, we’re having a visit today from, I want to say the guy’s name was Fred something. He was like the ops specialist for the region and he’s going to be looking at some things. I walked up to her later and I go, I’ll do my best to be out of the way. She goes, no, you should meet Fred. Fred is a good leader. Fred will take an interest in you and how else are you going to learn how this company works if you’re hiding because you think that he’s not interested because you work in security, you would both be wrong and that would not be the right thing for your career. You need to know this guy. Sure. You know what? She was right. Fred was actually was interested, had advice and there were a number of other things I’ve learned in that interaction. My initial response was, well, I should just go hide in the office.
Bray Wheeler: Right.
Bray Wheeler: I’ll stay out of the way.
Bryan Strawser: I’m the security guy.
Bray Wheeler: I’ll stay out of the way.
Bryan Strawser: No, I made myself important because Theresa told me I should make myself important.
Bray Wheeler: It really is. In order to advance the things that, the work that you’re doing, people have to know who you are. They need to know you’re a resource. They need to know you’re not only you but your team as well, and stressing kind of the importance of your team within the organization. If you’re fortunate to have a couple people helping support some of these functions, in a lot of cases it’s a one-person shop. If you do have other components even if it’s down to the hourly person in the app center, you’re putting a face, you’re putting some known entities, people are more likely to gravitate towards that. Putting yourself out there is huge to start drawing that interest in that business and really it’s not about you, it’s about what your function can do for the organization and do for other people rather than waiting until they’re coming to find you because they need something. Because most of the time they’re only going to do that. They’re only going to come find you when it benefits them or they need something.
Bryan Strawser: Right. I mean, I see this a lot. I think earlier in my career, I took me a while to really understand this and have the confidence to be willing to do the things that I think you need to do to make yourself important. I remember this kind of pivotal moment watching something happen in front of my eyes that I wouldn’t have done because I just didn’t think of the business in this way. We were at a regional meeting in Nashville, Tennessee and we were at a mixer. One of those mixers you don’t really have anymore where there’s alcohol and that kind of thing. I don’t know, there’s a couple of hundred of us in this courtyard area at the hotel the event was at. I was talking with my boss and he watched his boss walk over who is from a different part of the company had never really worked in our area.
Bryan Strawser: He went over and started talking with the senior vice president for our region and then went over and sat in the corner and they had a drink together privately and were chatting for quite a while. You could tell that it was just this interesting interaction between somebody that run the whole business for a fourth of the organization, and somebody who is new at the director level but had never worked in that region before talking. I was fascinated by this interaction because he was two levels above me but I was like, I’m never going to have that kind of confidence to walk over and have that conversation. But what that individual was doing was he was making himself important. He was seeking advice from a senior leader. He was trying to understand the region and what was going on. I only know this because I later asked him about this interaction in a mentoring conversation we’re having. That guy that did that, by the way, is now the CEO of Lowe’s. It was Marvin Ellison, CEO of J. C. Penney, President at Home Depot, previous VP of Security in Home Depot, prior to that was at Target.
Bray Wheeler: I don’t know Marvin personally, but I know a lot of people who knew him and kind of came up through the ranks in this organization and yeah, it very much sounds like his MO to go out there and share that story… I think if you follow him on social media and things like that, he’s still doing that kind of stuff even at that top level of putting himself out there and sharing his story and understanding what other people’s stories are to make the organization better and to understand what’s going on. I think that’s the flip side of that too, is if you’re a leader of one of these functions, make sure that you’re making those functions important, but also advocating as well back within the organization as, hey, these are people you guys should go meet.
Bray Wheeler: My team is working out some stuff and here’s what they can do for you. If you’re not doing that, you’re probably not the best leader in the organization. It’s important to remember to share that. Just share that story rather than waiting for a problem to arise to demonstrate the value or sharing those things like waiting until you have to have these conversations. The more proactive you are I think is really kind of where we’re getting to is the more proactive you are, the better off your organization’s going to be in that function is going to be to support the broader org.
Bryan Strawser: As consultants, I feel like, you know, when we’re working inside of an organization, we have a little bit of immunity to the corporate political game at that company that goes on because we’re really getting paid to be very straight forward with our advice and observations and recommendations. I mean I think there’s been the countless number of times even this year where we’ve been working with different clients, and at the heart of some of the challenges, we would hear something like, well, I can’t drive that. I can’t push that person because they’re a business leader and they’re not going to want to listen to [inaudible] me. We’re like, but you need to push that team, that person, this initiative because it is important because it is as you’ve defined the right thing to do to advance your strategies and your strategies are tied to the strategic objectives of the organization, and they are therefore important. In a lot of cases, they’ll have the senior leadership support to do the things that they need to put in place, but they can’t knock down the barriers that are in the way and in the middle, middle management kind of challenges and be willing to push.
Bray Wheeler: That becomes the part of the art to the science of all of it is trying to figure out who those key partners are and making sure that they are your partners and that they’re not seeing you and you’re trying to not see them as the obstacle. It’s one of those things kind of your point a second ago is in the most professional business-appropriate kind of way, you almost need to stay in their face. You need to stay in their face until you’ve come to some sort of resolution of where that value is or where the issue is or where that problem that needs to be solved is. Really, it’s about solving the problem rather than, again, back to making yourself important. It really is how do you solve the problems for the organization.
Bray Wheeler: If you’re not trying to knock those walls down, if you’re not trying to build those bridges after you’ve knocked the wall down, you’re not doing your job and it’s not going to be as effective in terms of the benefits and the outcomes that you’re seeking with some of the stuff. Again, this is support, critical support functions to the organization that needs to take place but aren’t going to be seen probably as such and just reality because they’re not typically profit centers.
Bryan Strawser: Right. I mean we talked before I think in a couple of episodes ago about how do you get support for things that you want to do and we talked a little bit about quantitative and qualitative benefits of doing some things. These areas are almost never profit centers to an organization, but we should not let that be the barrier to seeking the kind of resources and tools, software, capital, et cetera to do the job the way that your company has hired you to do the job and advance those things for your team. I remember arguing once for business continuity software, and the way it worked is that you went into a big capital prioritization meeting for technology projects and there were representatives from all the business and support teams. They were like, my boss was a person that sat at the table. I don’t know, there were probably 16, 17 people in the room in addition to everyone else that was presenting.
Bryan Strawser: Then a bunch of IT leaders who Strava was supposed to put obstacles in front of pretty much everything. I presented for business continuity software. The financial return on implementing the software was exactly zero. I mean, it was a money-losing proposition but we were manually managing more than 200 business continuity plans and close to 150 plus disaster recovery plans using a home-baked SharePoint tool. We went in and asked for this money. The first year I asked for it, I didn’t get it. It was not an insignificant spend, but it wasn’t a huge spend. I went and met with our VP over IT stuff that supported our organization later and said, “Why didn’t we get that?” “Well, the reason Bryan is that we prioritized getting new price range software that was going to make the company 40 million dollars in profit versus your money-losing BC tool,” but come back.
Bray Wheeler: Right.
Bryan Strawser: The next fiscal year there I was, I got it at that time. Again, it was the example of, I think this is a good example of the business case was stacked against it in terms of financial return but it was the right thing to do that align with our strategic objectives. I wasn’t going to be afraid of going in and presenting and representing my function and asking for the tools we need to do the job the way the company wanted me to do the job.
Bray Wheeler: Wait.
Bryan Strawser: I just had to wait a year, which by the way, I complained about that for a year.
Bray Wheeler: I’m sure. Well, it’s making yourself important again, making sure you remain important. Yeah, I mean sometimes it’s to your point, it’s just the competition that’s almost stacked against you internally in terms of what big dogs are coming to play at the table. It may not just be for capital, it might be for a strategy or a process or prioritization of, hey, we got to get this initiative done before we can get to this one. I think the message that came through in that kind of after meeting is really like, there’s still is value to what’s happening. When we see everything on paper and we’re looking strategically at what’s going on, we can’t make that decision today because there is a workaround that’s in place right now, but come back and eventually, you’ll be able to click. I think that’s another piece of this is not getting discouraged when somebody doesn’t see your value or you bump up against bigger competition for those resources at that point that it’s just not your day. You come back and you wait and you try it again and make sure that the story remains at the forefront to say, hey, this is still a thing. It’s still a thing. It’s still a thing.
Bryan Strawser: I was making a snide comment that I complained about this for the better part of the year before I went back and argued, but really what I did is I met with every leader that had a say in this thing in the time between one year and the next and I made my case for why we needed this probably to the point of annoyance.
Bray Wheeler: Sometimes that works.
Bryan Strawser: Sometimes that works. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I also did, and I tried to do this not in a snide manner, but sometimes my sarcasm comes out. Every time that something happened that we needed information that would’ve been in a tool like this, I pointed that out, particularly when we happened to have a data center problem and the CIO goes, well, what about what’s here versus there and blah, blah blah. We all looked at each other. I’m like, well, we would know the answer to that but we didn’t get our tool so we’re going to have to go do some manual analysis to figure out the answer to that question, which was we didn’t really have time for that. We had some decisions to make. I tried to do that. Again, I tried to do that not in a sarcastic or snide manner but I think important to point out like we made some priorities and decisions and that’s what you’re getting paid to do. I’m here to tell you that if you had decided differently then we would have this.
Bray Wheeler: Right. On the surface, the request for, in this example, the software, it’s a zero return in that proposal but when you’re able to start demonstrating in real life-
Bryan Strawser: Yeah, the qualitative value.
Bray Wheeler: Hey, I would know this and you’d be saving money right now. There is financial value somewhere in there, but you can’t say, well, three months from now we’re going to have a data center issue and it’s going to save you this amount of money. When it happens, you can start totaling that up and saying, hey, between last presentation and this presentation where we’re asking for this, we could have potentially saved this amount of money during that time on top of, yeah, it’s a zero return but we could have saved this much.
Bryan Strawser: I think another thing that we haven’t really talked about in this discussion about making yourself important is the more than the teams that you interact with come to believe that you understand their business and that you understand the principal business of the organization, the more important I think you become as a partner in their eyes. Particularly if you start to value the same kind of thing like you have a shared value system. I think the best place I can illustrate this is the first 12 years of my career I was in the field. I was in a retail organization. I was a security manager and district and group manager, so I’m running increasingly larger security teams but I am directly supporting the retail stores. That’s where my team is at. That’s where I’m at every day. I’m partnering with a business leader over the stores just like there was an HR partner there with us as well. The three of us were kind of the leadership team.
Bryan Strawser: I feel like particularly after a couple of years under my belt, I could look at a store the same way that my partner did. I understood what was important to him or her. I reinforce our shared expectations with the stores’ organization. The stores looked at me in the same way as, hey, this is a district or group level leader coming to visit. I’m going to shape up and I’m going to take this visit seriously. I’m going to give Bryan the same respect that I’m going to give to my boss. I feel like I earned that because part of elevating my role was understanding what was important to the business and looking at things through their eyes and being able to reinforce that when I was out and about in a store. I’m here to visit. I wasn’t going there to visit my team. I was going there to visit the store and my team was a part of that visit.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, your focus happened to be a specific area of it, but it didn’t take away from a broader view. I think that’s hugely important in terms of those partnerships and related things to that is and a key piece of that is being authentic about it. It can’t just be superficial, oh yeah, tell me, okay, you cover X, Y, Z, great and go regurgitate it to somebody else. You have to authentically care about what that is and start to get into the weeds, to your point, knowing what your partner leader would be looking for, what they’re interested in so that you can articulate that and reinforce that.
Bray Wheeler: It almost becomes a united front. A lot of times in some of these areas were like a BC in a DR where they might be organizationally different in different locations, there’s got to be that shared connectivity of what that is. It’s almost a united front that you can speak to the other’s business because at the end of the day there’s an intrinsic connection there that has to happen for the organization regardless. You might as well be a united front in that and be able to make your cases in different places.
Bryan Strawser: Well, I think it works to your advantage too because then your business partner is looking at your function, security in this case, as an integral part of making his or her business operations successful and allows you to drive your own priorities by essentially teaching them what you want them to look at when they’re in a store. Like, here are the three or four questions that I want you to ask, or here are the three or four things I want you to look at when you’re in. I didn’t have to worry about basic physical security stuff after a while because everybody understood that no matter who was coming, they were looking at like, are the doors locked, is the truck dock secure, is the back door secure, what’s in your storage trailers, what’s the security team up to.
Bryan Strawser: There were questions that went along with that. I think it’s a force multiplier if you’re able to establish that. The selfish part of it was it elevated my role as a security leader. It elevated the importance of my team’s role in the stores because we were viewed as a partner. Our job was to enable the business. It wasn’t to obstruct. It wasn’t to obstruct. Right? There’s a reason we lock these things, here’s why and why that’s important, why that’s part of our value system here of what we do. Yeah, but that’s part of enabling and protecting your business, not, I’m trying to get you in trouble because you didn’t padlock a dock door or whatever.
Bray Wheeler: Well, I think your force multiplier point, when you have multiple leaders advocating for the same thing, whatever that thing is, the gap or the opportunity that needs to be addressed, it’s a lot easier to make the case or to get those resources when multiple people are saying, this is a thing, this is a thing we need to address. Hey, have you guys addressed the thing over in this other area? That speaks volumes. It makes people pay attention to the fact that they’re hearing it from different people even though you’re kind of like-minded and situationally, you know, positionally the same within the organization or as a functional capability.
Bray Wheeler: If you have multiple people saying it, somebody may have credibility with another leader that you don’t necessarily have because you haven’t had as much interaction or there’s, you know, be real, there could be history there or something like that. When somebody else says it, going, oh, okay. Yeah, I’ll take an interest in that. That force multiplier piece I think is a great point in terms of that’s why you share your story. That’s why you put yourself out there. That’s why you make friends like we’ve talked about before when you need a friend-
Bryan Strawser: It’s too late to make one.
Bray Wheeler: It’s too late to make one.
Bryan Strawser: I’m reminded too of another, well, I ended up from my time in the stores that I think is illustrative of something that you just brought, that you just mentioned. I remember having had a high potential leader one time working for me in Boston who was running the hell out of a super difficult store that was a mess when he got there. We’d changed the store manager and some other things had happened. He was doing great and my boss and I wanted to send him through initial interviews to promote to run a district of his own, so run eight to 10, 12 stores. We’re in a talent planning meeting, and talent planning meetings were conducted as a big team so your partners from HR and the stores were all there.
Bryan Strawser: We’re just as openly talking about store managers as we are, you know, the managers under them including the security manager and HR manager in the store, which of course had independent reporting relationships. These guys were part of my team. I’m walking through like next-level talent, here’s what I think I want to do. I remember my group vice president goes, hey, you know, I’ve met this guy that you’re talking about, but I’ve never had a real conversation with him so I’m going to trust you on this but I’m part of the interview process. The next time I’m in the store, we need to make sure he’s more visible. It was an interesting conversation I had with my manager in the store because what I wanted him to do was make himself important. I wanted him to step up in a visit from essentially the store managers, bosses, bosses’ boss, and have an interaction with them not because we’re trying to get him in trouble, right.
Bryan Strawser: I want to put him in front of somebody who’s going to interview him and let him have a chance to have a more normal interaction. He was terrified. Now, to be fair, when I was his age, I was kind of terrified to this too. He was terrified. It was like, well, he doesn’t want to hear from me. I’m like, actually he’s asking to get to know you better. Right? We’re going to do two things. You’re going to prep two, three, four things that you want to say to him, talk with him about. You’re going to run them past me so I can help you get the right things. Then second, you’re going to lunch with us, with just us. It’s going to be like four of us. You’re coming. He said, “I don’t want to do that.” We can go over to you, but you need to.
Bray Wheeler: You’re right.
Bryan Strawser: You need to because he wants to get to know you. This will make the interview process easier. You’ve got to make yourself important. He’s not just coming to the store to visit with the store manager and that team, you are part of that team. He’s coming to see the whole business and you’re an important part of the business. Trust me. I mean, okay, so there were a few social missteps along the way, but you did a great job. He’s gone on to have an incredible career, probably not due to me, due to others that he’s working with but it was that interaction. It was making himself important, getting him that visibility. I don’t think he would have done that on his own.
Bray Wheeler: No. I think that for me too personally that it’s a real challenge to try and get over that hump of talking about yourself, talking about your function, making yourself important, doing those things. It can be really intimidating and scary, but now with the wisdom of age and experience and just looking at it from just this… You know, even just looking at it from a business standpoint, not even personal pieces of it, putting yourself out there and sharing that story and making these things important to other people, I think we’ve talked about it quite a bit now, is critical. Even if you viewed it less about yourself and more about trying to take a view of, hey, this is about my function and our role or our capabilities or our importance within the organization. You should be able to speak to that regardless of the personal components of it. I mean, it can be intimidating. It can be scary.
Bray Wheeler: I think if that is the case, it is going to your leader and having those conversations of saying, hey, this is the story I want to share. Did I craft this right? This is what I’m thinking. Hey, I want to go talk to these people because I feel like they have the keys to the doors to be able to get to these other people or to get to these other functions. Part of that is being a little bit strategic about who you’re talking to and who you’re sharing your story and potentially in what order, because sometimes that matters too. I think it’s important.
Bryan Strawser: That’s it for this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. We hope you tune in next week.
In the meantime, don’t wait for your ticket to the dance. Just show up.