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Consulting versus the 3-D syndrome.


IN THE MOVIE WORLD, 3-D IS BACK, funny glasses and all. In the business world, a new 3-D is no laughing matter. Downsizing, dismantling, and debt has become corporate America's strategy in the late 1980s. And almost every big company fears falling victim to its mentality.

According to the rules of downsize, dismantle, and debt, many large firms are worth more dead than alive. A company is in danger when the total value of its shares drops below that of its assets. A business becomes undervalued when speculators can sell its offices, plants, equipment, and real estate for more than they pay to buy the company. To counter the threat of takeovers, many companies have adopted a 3-D mentality.

The 3-D strategy has consequences not only for individual employees and companies but also for corporate America as a whole. The 3-D mentality has led to large numbers of personnel layoffs as companies attempt to reduce overhead, increase responsiveness, and gain a competitive edge in their industry. Estimates show that a million managers will have lost their jobs by the end of 1990 due to downsizing and dismantling. Although the recent wave of streamlining has greatly improved profit margins, it has so decimated executive ranks that the business world may never recover. It has destroyed the careers of loyal, long-term workers who knew their companies best and were committed to continued success.

The resulting lack of commitment and loyalty from employees who survive massive cuts presents increased challenges for managers. More essential than ever is managers' ability to get their recommendations implemented, whether they work in human resources, security, or management information systems. Security managers specifically ask how they can exert influence when they do not have direct control. Unfortunately, this question has no easy answers.

So, in this era of disillusionment and uncertainty, how can security professionals get their ideas accepted, adopted, and financed? One way to solve this problem is for the security department to function as consultants to other corporate divisions. Experience shows the way people feel about the security department will determine whether they follow its recommendations. Thus, managing client relationships is very important in a consulting environment.

Every phase in the consulting process is a stepping stone to successful project completion. Often, both the security consultant and the client try to hurry through the preliminary steps and get on with implementation. The consultant is eager to go ahead with a solution that requires his or her expertise. The client wants the security of knowing that something is being done. However, in rushing toward the comfort of solutions and neglecting preliminary phases, both parties overlook skills and steps that are crucial to successful consulting. Hurried contracting, shotgun diagnosis, and impersonal feedback are the breeding ground for problems in implementation.

A four-phase model - contracting, diagnosis, feedback, and implementation - can ensure that security staff recommendations are acted on. This process was originally introduced by Peter Block in his landmark book Flawless Consulting (Austin, TX: Learning Concepts, 1981). Block's concepts and procedures can be applied specifically to the field of security.

Initially, the consultant must build the foundation for a fifty-fifty relationship with the client. This cooperative relationship offers the best chance for achieving the ultimate goal of any consulting project, namely, to solve the client's problems so they stay solved and to enable the client to solve future problems.

The goal of the first phase of a consulting project, contracting, is to gain the client's personal commitment by negotiating responsibilities and establishing and equitable relationship. During contracting, the following elements should be covered:

Scope. This is a statement of the study's focus. For example, the scope might state, "The study will be a physical security survey of the corporate headquarters building. It will include security lighting, CCTV, intrusion devices, and access control. The study will not include the factory or distribution area."

Objectives. The consultant should outline his or her best estimate of the benefits the client can expect - that is, what will be accomplished if the study is successful. For example, "The objective of the study is to identify the effectiveness of the present security system and to recommend upgraded technology and other improvements."

Informational leads. Access to people and information is the key to effective consulting and should be discussed during the contracting phase. For example, "To complete our security study, I must have access to the plant engineer and department directors. I also need a list of policies and procedures. I will interview at least 10 additional employees to identify their attitude toward security at the corporate headquarters."

Consultant's role. Only through client involvement can the consultant gain the support needed for successful implementation. A clear statement of intent that expresses a desire for equal responsibility in identifying problems, integrating findings, and developing recommendations and action plans indicates the consultant's desire for a cooperative effort. For example, "My primary role is to give you a clear picture of your current level of security and what I believe your future needs to be. I would like to present to you my analysis of the situation and then together we will develop recommendations on what changes should be made. A major part of my role is to help you solve this problem for yourself the next time."

Administration. The client should know what product he or she will receive - whether it is a written or oral report, what the time schedule is for that report, and whether to expect any interim reports. The individual receiving the report also should be aware of any additional copies that will be supplied to other people. Reporting procedures vary depending upon whether the consultant position is internal or external. Normally, an external consultant reports only to the client, while an internal consultant may often be required by policy to report to other individuals in a chain of command.

Obligation. A binding relationship between consultant and client should develop during contracting. Very candidly, the consultant should determine what the client really wants by asking directly what his or her expectations are. This information is the heart of the contracting process and the key to a successful project. The client may be allowing only two weeks for a four-week project, or a project that should have a budget of $30,000 may only have been allotted $2,000.

After carefully eliciting the client's wants, the consultant must clearly express what he or she needs to make the project successful. Some essentials include sufficient time and budget to do the job properly; access to the right people, records, and documentation; and the commitment of key company personnel to the completion of the project.

After clarifying these needs, the consultant should ask for feedback on control and vulnerability. Unfortunately, many a project fails because the client enters it based on some type of coercion, either direct or indirect, or the client agrees to the project but feels he or she does not have adequate control over procedures.

The consultant must ask, "Is this project something you really want? Are you satisfied with the way we have set up this project?" If the client is not totally committed to the project, this does not mean the consultant should withdraw. He or she will, however, better understand potential difficulties from the beginning.

Finally, two finer points should be included in contracting. First, the consultant should offer support in terms of a statement emphasizing the client's expertise and involvement, such as "You are aware of the type of security problems that exist. That is going to be a great help to us in conducting our study."

Second, all points of agreement should be restated. For example, "I will begin the study on Monday at 10:00 am. The study will take three days. At the conclusion of the study, I will give you an oral briefing followed by a written report within two weeks. On Friday, I will provide you with a list of the key personnel I wish to interview.

The second phase in the consulting model is diagnosis, where the purpose is not to develop voluminous amounts of research material but to mobilize energies and resources to solve the problem. During the diagnostic phase, the consultant discovers the underlying dimensions of the real problem and helps the client through professional and compassionate behavior.

Diagnosis usually begins when the client presents a perceived problem, or what Block calls the presenting problem. However, the consultant cannot accept what is presented as the true problem without data collection and analysis. The problem presented by the client and the real, or underlying, problem are usually quite different. As a result, diagnosis also requires redefining the problem. The following real-life example shows how this process works.

A consultant was called into a medium-sized business, where top management described extensive losses in the shipping department. The presenting problem, as stated by the management, was that a few bad apples had recently transferred from another branch. After much research and interviewing, the consultant determined the real problem - extensive internal theft by many employees at many levels in the organization, including management. Thus, the consultant's contribution was to redefine the problem and present a clear and simple picture to top management.

During this redefinition process, the consultant studied the company's technical and business problems. Technical problems are found in the communication between the client and consultant and between the client and his or her employees. Business problems stem from company-wide policies and procedures. The consultant's study revealed inadequate controls, lack of a corporate security policy, lack of integrity standards, and lack of accountability. Next, the consultant examined how the problem was being managed and how the clients themselves were contributing to the problem. Here, he found a defensive middle management that was covering up losses by withholding information and tinkering with the numbers. Losses simply weren't discussed within the company.

The client's presented problem often includes such hidden technical and business components. Organizational problems include how these business and technical aspects are managed. For an internal consultant, addressing organizational involvement is a risky but necessary chore.

In summary, the diagnostic phase is as important as the contracting phase. In addition to the points already covered, the client should be involved in data collection and interpretation. The collected data should also be trimmed down to a manageable size and should use language understandable to people outside the security field. These steps lead to the feedback phase of the model.

The feedback phase is the consultant's showtime - the moment to present findings and recommendations and to reach a mutual decision with the client on an appropriate action. Normally, voluminous research information will have accumulated during the previous phases. The consultant's dilemma is choosing what information to present to the client.

One good way to determine information priorities is to list those four or five key items most important to the client. This list can then guide the decision on what to report and how to organize the information. Questions helpful in organizing a feedback presentation include the following:

* Does the client have control over changing current practices?

* Are the problems discovered important to both the client and the organization?

* Is the client organization committed to solving the problems?

The feedback phase is often tricky. The client must answer tough questions and accept the reality of the problems. During the presentation, the consultant should strive to be neutral, direct, nonjudgmental, and compassionate. Only after the information and recommendations have been imparted can implementation begin.

The most powerful tool for leverage during implementation is the consultant's behavior - the rapport he or she has developed with the client during the consulting process. Ideally, this relationship is built on honesty and trust, which reduce the client's feelings of vulnerability and loss of control as implementation moves forward.

Finally, as one project ends, it sets up a new beginning that may turn into a future business opportunity. At this point, the consultant should provide the client with feedback on project management. The consultant should also request an evaluation of his or her performance during the project and outline how the two parties might effectively work together in the future.

Organizations today are fighting for survival. They are downsizing, dismantling, and taking on debt. Many are fighting hostile takeovers. Within this climate, top management wants to know how staff managers can be more cost-effective and enhance the bottom line. Security professionals do not need special glasses to see that now is the time to ponder this question for themselves. The timely application of sound consulting techniques may be the answer.

Robert F. Littlejohn, CPP, is director of corporate security for Avon Products Inc. in New York City. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:downsizing, dismantling and debt; security departments functioning as consultants to other corporate divisions
Author:Littlejohn, Robert F.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Previous Article:Export licenses: a national security issue.
Next Article:Computer vulnerabilities.

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