The Security Executive Council is a consultancy specializing in physical security for commercial organizations. Their latest newsletter led me to a nice little piece about business cases, including this:
Brad Brekke, SEC emeritus faculty and former Vice President of Assets Protection and Corporate Security for Target Corporation, emphasizes that the business case must be built upon a deep understanding of the business and security's role and strategy within it. "I'd recommend you conduct this exercise: Study your business. Know how it operates, how it makes money, how it's set up, what its strategy is – for instance, is it a growth strategy, an expense-driven strategy, a service-driven strategy. Know the culture and risk tolerance of your organization and know the voice of its customer," says Brekke.
That approach makes sense for any substantial strategy, change or investment proposal. All organizations exist to achieve [business] objectives, so being clear about how a proposal supports or enables those [business] objectives is a no-brainer, right?
How to do that in practice, however, may not be entirely obvious, especially to specialists/professionals deeply immersed in particular fields such as information risk and security. Our worldview naturally revolves around our own little world. We perceive things in our own terms. We are inevitably biased towards certain aspects that interest and concern us, hence we inevitably emphasize them while downplaying, ignoring or failing even to notice others.
That's true regardless of the specialism. For instance, HR pros naturally focus on people, sociology, human behaviour and so on. Finance pros focus on dollars and financial risks. IT pros focus on computing and tech. And, guess what, CISOs and ISMs have their focal points and blind-spots too.
The same is also true of other people with whom we interact at work, including those execs who will ultimately make the big decisions about our big proposals, plus assorted managers and [other] specialists beneath who advise and influence them. We all have our interests and prejudices, our personal agendas, hot-buttons and fear-factors. Despite the title, even "general managers" didn't mysteriously parachute-in to the role out of a clear blue sky but worked their way through the educational system, the ranks and the University of Life, picking up skills and experiences along the way, shaping their personalities today.
So, when proposing something, awareness of our own biases plus those of our audiences (for there are several) presents the opportunity to counteract them on both sides.
The SEC piece, for instance, offers this advice:
Brekke also cautions security leaders not to undervalue the importance of storytelling. Each organization has a language that resonates with management. Consider the language of the brand and the language of the organization's business as you develop the story you will tell and as you make your business case. You may find it helpful to reframe some security language to better reflect business value. For instance, because one of Target's foundational goals was to focus on the experience of the customer, conversations about shoplifting became conversations about enabling the guest experience.
That's the no-brainer business-focused approach I mentioned earlier, and fair enough: it's not unreasonable to expect everyone in an organization to share a common interest in furthering the organization's business aims. At an overall level, being business-focused makes perfect sense. However, there's more to it in that 'the organization' is, in reality, an assortment of individuals with distinct personalities.
So, I recommend a more granular, more mature approach. Rather than simply preparing and submitting a business-like proposal then expecting 'the organization' or 'management' to approve it, consider the individual people who will make the decisions, plus those who advise and influence them. Ideally, spend quality time with them during the drafting process, explaining what you are hoping to achieve and finding out what they want or expect or fear from it. Explain things in their terms, if you can. As Brad suggests, use pertinent examples that resonate with them. Tease out their concerns, and emphasize the benefits for them and their areas of interest, plus others (it's perfectly OK to bring up the wider perspective, including opinions and concerns raised by various colleagues). Try not to leave things hanging in mid-air: where relevant, revise your proposals to take account of the feedback and let them know you have done so. Reassure them that you have genuinely responded to their suggestions - even if that means compromising or, on occasions, rejecting them due to competing pressures. This is a negotiation process, so negotiate towards agreement. If it helps, you can even quote those feedback comments, partly because of what they say and partly to demonstrate that you have both listened and reacted.
For bonus marks, collaborate with your colleagues from the outset. Develop joint proposals with other departments. Drive out extra value by optimising your approaches, addressing multiple objectives simultaneously. Work as a team.
Now is an excellent time of year to put this approach into practice as most organizations head rapidly towards the new financial year, hence strategies, initiatives, priorities and budgets are all up for discussion. If your normal approach is head-down, focused on building what you believe to be the best possible business cases and proposals in isolation, then lift your head from the page for once. Consider who your proposals will affect, and go see them for a chat - now, well before the ink is dry. I promise you, it's time well spent. You'll markedly improve your chances of success.
It works both ways too. If, say, Marketing is lining-up for a substantial investment, initiative or change of approach, get actively engaged with the formulation of their proposal concerning the information risk and security aspects. Find out what they are on about. Consider the implications. Where appropriate, push for changes and make concessions to them in return for their support for your objectives and proposals, and vice versa, all the while circling around those common business objectives. 'What's best for the business' is a particularly compelling perspective, hard to argue against. Plotting the best route is easier if everyone is heading for the same destination.