February 2019 | 

Learning the Language of Business: A Custom Program for Security Professionals

Learning the Language of Business: A Custom Program for Security Professionals

Most security professionals started their careers in other fields. Common backgrounds include work in policing, the military, and technology. As they move into more senior positions, knowledge and skills gaps can develop.

“Most of what our members do is the nuts and bolts of security management,” says Michael Gips, chief global knowledge officer of ASIS International, the world’s largest association for security professionals. “We know how to stop an active shooter or lock down computer systems from hackers. What we don’t have a lot of is executive-level skills: influencing the people in the corner offices and boardroom, reading a balance sheet and doing a cost benefit analysis, and speaking the language of business so we can be seen as an equal partner and trusted advisor.”

Developing these capabilities on the job, or at conferences, isn’t always possible, says Gips. Instead, ASIS offers the Wharton/ASIS Program for Security Executives: Making the Business Case for Security to its members each year. “We can teach the security-related content, but we trust Wharton when it comes to higher-order business skills,” he notes.

“Competitor organizations also offer executive development programs,” says Gips, “but Wharton is at the top of the food chain. The quality of the program matches the school’s reputation.” Wharton’s custom program team developed leadership content specifically for ASIS; topics covered in the week-long program include critical thinking and decision making, value creation, marketing, leading and managing change, and negotiation and persuasion.

Strengthening Negotiation and Persuasion Skills

It is the negotiation and persuasion session that most participants say they are able to put to immediate use.
Based on his books Bargaining for Advantage and The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, the day-long session is taught by Wharton professor G. Richard Shell, a leading expert on the subject. Shell’s methods are based on knowledge of self and others rather than on simple concepts like “win-win,” and involve key habits and methods that can be used in any situation.

One participant, a senior security manager at a U.S. pharmaceutical firm, says he used what he learned to refine an important pitch to his company’s executive steering committee. Before leaving for Wharton, he created a presentation 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 his return, he reworked it, focusing instead 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, also expanded executive travel security to more areas of the world.

His success story is not unusual, according to Gips. He says he routinely hears from members who take the program that it is one of the most valuable benefits of ASIS membership.

And he attended the program to experience it for himself. “You are encouraged to think differently and to exercise brain muscles that haven’t been exercised in a while.  You’re also a part of the Penn community when you’re there — the historic campus is a great environment and it’s easy to focus on the learning. Participants in the Wharton/ASIS program demonstrate that they’re interested in being more strategic leaders and in creating value for their organizations.”