Making the transition: Tips for going from the public sector to the private sector
By Michael Ramstack, Senior Security Manager, Covance Laboratories
Many law enforcement professionals make a natural transition into private sector security. However, many get to the private sector and find a very different environment than the one they're use to in the public sector. They struggle with that transition and can't understand why they are not being effective, especially since they were very successful in their law enforcement career. What someone in this position needs to understand is that their new role is not about power or authority. It's about influencing the organization based on your knowledge and experience.
The goal is to get the organization to understand the importance of security policies and practices in protecting the organization's people, property and assets. To succeed in that goal, you need to know what steps to take in order to influence your colleagues and generate the support for what you want to accomplish. Security is not as black and white as law enforcement tends to be. Below you will find four tips which can help you make a transition from the public to private sector a successful one.
1. Change Your Mindset
You need to change your mindset from an authoritative one to a persuasive one. Law enforcement is a very authoritative position, which inherently comes with a lot of power. In this position you spend time telling people what they can and cannot do based on the law. If they don't follow your direction there are consequences for their actions. Additionally, law enforcement supports an authoritative mindset with a rigid staff and command structure. In these structures, orders are given and the expectation is they will be followed. If they are not, there are consequences for those actions. Many law enforcement professionals walk into the private sector and think they can give orders and they will be obeyed. However, the reality is this is the worst way to approach the security mission in a private organization. In order to be successful in your new role you need to take some time to understand the culture and how it views security in its current state and how security impacts the current operations. You need to get to know the organization and become intimate with what and how it delivers its product. If you want to be persuasive then you will need to understand the big picture and how security impacts the organization and those processes. Then, and only then, can you begin to make the best decisions and have security be accepted into the organization's culture.
2. Change Your Approach from Reactive to Proactive
Law enforcement professionals spend most of their time being reactive to calls for service or behaviors and activities once they are already occurring. Security is about being proactive to reduce the risk of something bad happening and limiting the impact if it were to happen. Being proactive can come in many forms, such as a robust workplace violence program with the intent to head off the behavior before it turns negative. Educate the organization about the costs of taking proactive steps to protect your company from security concerns and how they are far less than the cost of having to react and recover from an event.
3. Get Buy In
Know how the current security processes will impact each business unit, and the impact of any changes to those processes. Then take the time to explain and educate all those impacted as to why a certain security process is needed. Get them to understand and accept the need and agree with the solution. Once there is agreement, the most important element is to then get them to commit to support the decision. The best way to get agreement and support is to ask them for their input and suggestions as to how they think the security objective could be accomplished. As professionals in our industry, we sometimes think we always know the best answer, but sometimes input can lead to a different option with less impact on their processes, but still deliver the same security goal in the end. Keep in mind that there is always more than one solution to every security problem, so you need to be open to their input. Your role is to take the input and apply your skills and expertise to create a solution that accomplishes all interested parties' needs, with the bottom line supporting the security objective. Once you can learn to do this, your objectives will become more accepted and supported.
4. Educate, Educate, Educate
You will spend an enormous amount of time educating the organization on the reasons why they have security and why security is important to them. Many organizations have security professionals, but honestly most employees don't really understand why or what they do. You as the security leader need to market your group and show the relationship between the business being successful and having good security practices. Remember your experiences in the "real world" are very different than those experiences most of your new colleagues in the private sector have had. Most people go through life never experiencing the "bad" in other people and therefore their perception is that most people are good and bad things don't happen. The biggest hurdle you will face is being questioned as to why certain procedures are needed when "that sort of thing never happens here." Don't get frustrated. Understand their perception of the "real world" is based on their limited exposure to bad experiences. You need to figure out how to get your organization's leadership to understand the need behind security and show them that the cost of having security is important, that the value you bring is immeasurable, and prevention outweighs any cost.
Remember, your new role is about influencing the organization's decision makers. You accomplish this by creating buy in through working together and on educating and marketing security as a critical component to the organization's success.
Michael Ramstack is senior security manager at Covance Laboratories in Madison, Wis. Prior to his current position in the private sector, he served as a police officer in a suburb of Milwaukee for 13 years.