How We Develop People at risk3sixty

My business partner and co-founder at risk3sixty, Christian White (CW), is a West Point graduate and former Ranger-qualified Captain in the U.S. Army. He served under some amazing leaders (like Rob Campbell who wrote a book about leadership called “It’s Personal not Personnel“) and had the opportunity to lead and develop hundreds of men and women. In fact, the U.S. Army considers their strategy toward leadership development and army leadership an important competitive wartime advantage. As a result, CW has a thoughtful approach to building programs to invest in and develop our team at risk3sixty – not just as consultants – but as well rounded people and leaders.

So while our office culture is probably closer to that of a start-up, I credit CW’s West Point and military experience with many of our leadership development strategies. Here’s a summary of our approach to investing in our team.

Everyone Has a Coach

Every team member at risk3sixty is assigned a coach. Coaches are responsible for the professional development of those they mentor. They act as a sounding board when team members have a need and make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction. Coaches meet with employees at least quarterly (on a formal basis) and are always available for informal career development conversations. We follow two rules when it comes to assigning coaches: 1) Avoid assigning anyone’s immediate manager as a coach, and 2) Coaches should not have more than 5 mentees.

Iterative Career Development Planning (CDP)

Everyone at risk3sixty has a written career development plan. The CDP is all about what our team members want to do professionally, how they are going to do it, and when they plan to do it. The typical career development plan includes training, certifications, and areas employees want to improve as a professional (like public speaking or writing). Coaches help challenge our team and ensure that everyone hits the goals they set for themselves. The CDP is a living document that we review at least quarterly.

Leadership Development Program

Leadership development is where we get a little philosophical and draw on a lot of lessons from CW’s West Point experiences. In short, we take the approach that before any leader can develop someone else, they must know themselves and have a well thought out approach to leadership. As a result, we take every employee through a three step exercise (that will be iterated on indefinitely). (There is a solid article at Psychology Today about this methodology in leadership development.)

The Purpose Quadrant and Bio Sketch

One of the first times CW and I sat down to do a coaching session with one of our managers he pulled a small card out of his wallet that he has been carrying since his days in the military. The card is hand written and divided into four quadrants defining his life’s philosophy. At risk3sixty, we call it the purpose quadrant.

The purpose quadrant serves as a leadership compass. If the thing you are about to do does not align with your purpose quadrant, it’s a good opportunity to reflect and consider if you should do it. Having visibility into each team members’ driving force helps ensure we keep career goals and culture in line with big picture goals.

The complement to this purpose quadrant is the one to two-page bio sketch.  The purpose of the bio sketch is to articulate who you are as a person.  What makes you, you?  How did your life experiences shape who you are today?  What are you passionate about?  What are your hopes and dreams?  What are your strengths, weaknesses, and fears?  By taking the time to go through this exercise, each team member gains a better understanding of who they are and what is important to them.

Examining Crucible Experiences

Everyone has had to conquer adversity. The lessons we learn from these hardships often shape our management and leadership style. Though these experiences are key moments in our life most of us do not spend much time reflecting on what we’ve learned or how we might be able to help others learn from our experience. The simple act of reflecting on these moments, however, can make them invaluable to our leadership style. There is also a solid Harvard Business Review article on the topic. As the article says:

“The skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders…it required them to examine their values, question their assumptions, hone their judgment. And, invariably, they emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose—changed in some fundamental way.”

The idea behind the crucible experiences writing assignment for our team is to reflect on the moments in life that shaped us as people and leaders. We think if you understand those experiences, you begin to understand yourself as a person – and perhaps more important – have the tools to share those lessons with the people you are charged with developing.

Articulating a Personal Leadership Philosophy

Once a team member has worked out their purpose quadrant/bio sketch and reflected upon their crucible experiences, they begin articulating their leadership philosophy. Like all of these documents, the individual’s leadership philosophy is typically a working document that changes over time as we learn important lessons and integrate new learning.

We think its a good idea to put your leadership philosophy into writing because formally articulating thoughts helps to bring unconscious thinking to the forefront of the mind where it can be more closely examined. It also gives our team the opportunity to better understand one another and integrate new ideas to enhance their own philosophy. If you are considering writing your own Leadership Philosophy the Citadel provides and example here. Harvard Business Review has a couple of articles about why managers should have a leadership philosophy here and here.

Closing Thoughts

As a business, you have to put people first, and you have to consistently invest in your team. It is not enough to have good intentions. There must be a defined strategy to develop people. That strategy begins before anyone is hired (we talk about our hiring process here) and continues indefinitely.

This might be the point where you are shouting: “I’d like to join risk3sixty!” or “I’d really like to work with this group of security and compliance craftsmen!” If that’s you, we want to hear from you. Reach out here.

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