Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Passion for Protection

I have seen articles that dance around the topics of “ how to hire in security, how to GET hired, who you should hire…picking a good consultant…finding the right tester...etc….” but it all looks the same. Surely, in this day and age we aren’t using the same “solution” we have used FOR EVER in the interview process? You know… The same type of interview that allows us to turn the candidates into numbers, weigh their pros and cons, and decide based on a formula that best suits the needs (pocketbook) of our company at that time. To me, this is a crock of S*it. It demoralizes and devalues the special sauce of every brand on the market. It is the antithesis of what great companies were founded on. You don’t get to be a household name without a passion, a drive, a level of innovation and an insatiable hunger to succeed at all costs. You do not get to be amazing because of the notes you took or the forms you filled out. You do not get to LEAD an industry until you have taken the beatings at the bottom and shown that you have a will to give it all for another shot. When all is said and done, you should be working for a mindset and not a “company”. You should work for a dream that YOU believe in; not because you are brainwashed but because it is YOUR dream and the company is there because there are others that share some of the same dreams. If you don’t…. pack up your bags today. You are not going to be happy. You are in your job (and probably hate it) as a slave to the money. There are other ways to be wealthy and happy, but I’ll get to all of that some other day…

Much of my thinking on this subject has been recently sparked by the last 3 years of business at LARES. What started off as leap of faith has become a way of life. We have a very unique dream that we pursue. It is not just marketing or some type of slogan; it is the way the business IS. Our dream was to have a security company that connected people. I am not just talking about the type of connection you make when someone signs off on that sales laden template Statement of Work, I am talking about true connections. We create all of our services and interactions around Connections. Our job is to reinvigorate companies through that connection. We focus on connecting people, feeling, passion, ideals, goals and most of all business “dreams.” This may sound odd due to the corporate mumbo-jumbo we have all heard over the years but I guess we still look at it with a fresh set of eyes. Almost every business I have ever had the pleasure of working for or even meeting with has had a dream. They call those dreams “mission statements” or some other catchy term that removes the playful aspiration and passion of the people that created the idea. Once those passion driven aspects are killed off, they lay on the political correctness and a heavy dose of marketing and POOF… the Corporate Mission Statement arrives. At least they are still stating their dreams. They are putting it out there for all to see and hear. “We WILL BE the best….”

Mission Statements are amazing documents that most people don’t give two thoughts about in the security industry but it is the CORE of the business. It is the single most important asset that company has ever had or will have. It is an all-encompassing look into the soul of the company from where they were to where they will go and their drive to get there. It’s not just some catchy phrase, it is the echoing voice of the passionate few who risked it all to pursue a dream. Even though the company has grown leaps and bounds, that one statement is a line in the sand. It is a promise, and our job is to help our clients KEEP that promise.

I have had the pleasure of having a business partner (Eric Smith) that was willing to go all in on a dream, and it has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my career. Since starting LARES, we have had our hard times, our struggle with a new business, and our successes. We have taken endless lumps and will surely take more because we WANT to learn. Every hard time has come with a new thing to learn and a realization that we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg yet.

But…

We are committed to our dream and are unreasonable in its pursuit. We have had some amazing experiences with talented engineers and technical merit that far exceeded our expectations, but the one thing that keeps us who we are IS THAT DREAM. It’s funny to think that all of these years I had it backwards. I was interviewing our teammates, testing their skills, and trying to find someone that would “Fit” the business I was in without ever really thinking about why it didn’t always work. There was always some excuse, “bad time, bad person, bad position, bad fit, not tech enough, not socially skilled enough… and on …and on” It didn’t dawn on me that I was doing it totally wrong for our business, it was how I was taught. Promote/Hire/Fire the engineers and Share your goals/solutions with the customers to find the right fit. Little did I know that all I had to do was turn it around. By having teammates that shared common goals/solutions/ and levels of comfort …the “dream” was protected. Not only was it protected it was fully supported, strengthened and totally re-imagined. They weren’t just good practitioners, they were pioneers that were pursuing THEIR dreams. But what about the other side, the customers.

Instead of playing like I knew, I asked our clients. “Why did you choose us? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Why and so much more.” The most common response I heard from them was that our PASSION was obvious. We loved what we do and every time we do it. It was a huge moment for me. It was not our deliverable, or how much we could do better or price or anything else *even though those were mentioned in a few.* The overwhelming majority told me that if it were not for our PASSION it would have never been the same. We also got another comment that threw me for a loop. “You guys are brutally honest, there is no BS, just the reality of what it is.” This one got me worried. Were we too hard on them? Were we not political enough? Did we offend them? What do we need to do to change?

Oddly enough, many of them told us it was a compliment. Sure it hurt a bit to hear from us the way we presented it, but it was also the first time that people WERE honest with them. That just broke my heart. A profession that is about testing people and using the truth as a motivator for growth was plagued with lies, sales tactics, and the sugar coating that even after the 9th hack…. SONY is still OK. These responses and feedback changed our business forever. We didn’t want to play doctor and hand out the pills our patients requested. We wanted them to get EVERYTHING they could from our time together. Whether 10 min or 10 months, we were unrelenting and would ONLY give 120%. If they wanted less… we would realize that it was just not the right fit. It was not the right “connection.” We started to expect our customers to be just as committed as we were to OUR dream and to THEIR businesses dream. We made it clear that we were there to help them keep a promise they made to protect the business' dream at all costs. Oh boy was that a rocky ride. Try being on a “sales call” where someone wants to do a multi week external pentest test because they want to know if they can get hacked…and you ask them “ have you ever had a virus?” Then when the person on the phone laughs and says “Of course” politely explain that they have proven they can get hacked quite easily… and ask why they need to spend 10’s of thousands of dollars to prove what they just told you as a truth.

The sales people come UNGLUED… but hey…. I guess that is why we don’t have any sales team =)

Now in that same scenario you may find out that the whole reason for the test is to show a connection to IMPACT and what COULD happen… or maybe you find out that they really want to create a defensible business posture and don’t know where to get started… or maybe you find out that they just need to check a box because “PCI SAYS SO.” By doing more than taking orders and getting to know their business and goals, you get to understand THEM better and you have a whole new connection. Now the interview has flipped and the asset you are trying to “bring on board” or “see if they are a right fit” is the CUSTOMER! Yep, that’s right…. We started interviewing our customers to see if our passionate approach met up with their needs. If they did, we brought them on to the team and gave it all we had. If not, we parted ways. If they were part of first group and worked with us to inspire and create…they got promoted. These customers are the cream of the crop and deserve to be treated that way. They forced us to work harder every time and the sweat we broke was attributed to the countless hours they spent on their end. The job did not have to be bigger, or more $$, or anything like that because we got to connect with the results. All of the work put in during our first encounter was reflected back to us and the real connection was proven…. Not just “signed off on”

Let’s face it, most of us have had a bad date before. We knew it was not going to work out from the moment we started talking yet we forced onward. We purposely continued on and put the other member through as much misery as we “knew” was going to be happen to prove ourselves right. How disrespectful. Everyone is different; everyone has different goals and a million ways to go about them. Rarely are any of them wrong… and even if they are… who are we to judge? The truth is, we want customers that feel just as good about us as we feel about them. We want a connection to be made that will let us get past all of the politico and get down to WORK. We never want to waste their valuable time, just to try and compete for a job that they or we will go into with serious doubts. We want to work WITH not just FOR each other.

Conventional security sales practices never delivered (why do you think more companies lose more $ and get hacked more EVERY YEAR?), the “Real World” is just a TV show, and planning is guessing. The days of menu based security services will live long in the eyes of the services giants who have 1000’s of mouths (shareholders/engineers/sales and more) to feed and an ever increasing need to grow sales. Their pockets will run flush with the spoils of their marketing campaigns and their emotionless sales team execution. The robots will trudge on to under bid, over promise, and upsell without a single reference to the fact that “SECURITY” is a feeling. They will respond to your RFP even if they can’t stand you. They will cash the check hastily as they squirm to leave your presence and come back next year for more because they can’t afford NOT to. The more they see you, the more they can hire, expand and do what every business school taught them “grow the business” *note… not grow YOUR business*

…but that’s not how this work should be done/won?!?!

Precisely! It isn’t. Then again, we don’t work. We do what we do, because if we didn’t get paid for it we would do it anyway. This is something we LOVE. This is not just a job this is a way of life for us. With every experience we share we get a new perspective and experience in return. We make connections between our company and theirs. We build bridges between teams and show them how other bridges can be burned. We trade our experience and passion for the ability to experience and protect their dream. Not for them….with them. With that in mind, we have made a commitment to “never hire again” in the conventional sense of the term.

This week, it is an honor to live up to that commitment and welcome Chris Gates to our team. We have spent YEARS talking about the industry we are in and have always shared similar goals/dreams. We have laughed together at the countless hours spent talking about how to change and never changing. Chris has many tools that he brings to this trade but his biggest asset is his passion. His passion to help customers and peers alike is something that can never be taught or interviewed for. He joins the team not just as a member, but as another passionate professional… willing to risk it all… for a shot at making it better. Eric and I may have been founders for 2 years but Chris’ addition gives the ability to once again reimagine a dream that 3 of us share instead of 2. Partner, Owner, Engineer, Expert, Sr., Jr., Janitor or whatever title he chooses will be just another name. The real job he has made for himself is the same that many of us were told to pursue when we were little “To follow a dream.” I am excited to see this new addition to LARES and echo the excitement of our customers in knowing that he will help shape the future of our business. Like watching any talented sparring partner/coach, I am even more excited to see the new heights he will bring our amazing customers too.

3 comments:

  1. Such an amazing post. I truly loved your comment “You guys are brutally honest, there is no BS, just the reality of what it is.” I really loved the whole post, but that is what I have been searching for in Corp IT. No one wants to stand up and ask the hard questions, or give the answers that no one wants to hear. Bravo. Would love to work in an organization such as yours.

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  2. Believing in that you can achieve your dream job must be like believing that you can overcome any trial. Some people really have the passion for one thing and at some point, they always over looked at it because of practical reasons. This shouldn't stop them from achieving it. Stay focused and just keep moving on towards your goal. As Kary Glynn have said, "Careers can be fun, exciting, and will help you pay the bills.". So you better chase your dream right away and don't leave any regret.

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