Creating a cybersecurity culture isn’t a novel idea. It’s one that’s been around for some time, as the field and organizations realized that cybersecurity isn’t just about tools, protocols, and technical aptitude. Culture is much more about the people and, as a result, makes it much harder to build and sustain. People are unpredictable and don’t always have the skillsets to participate in culture. There’s an additional component of cultural manifestation, and it revolves around innovation. So, how do you develop a cybersecurity culture of innovation?
If it’s not a question you’re asking yourself as a cybersecurity leader, I would suggest you should. Innovation is the enemy of complacency. However, it requires cyber teams to look beyond their technical aptitude and leverage soft skills, which they may not have. It can seem like an uphill battle, but it’s worth considering the benefits it can bring your staff and business. Those advantages include satisfied employees, mitigation of risk, and the ability to meet continuous improvement goals.
So, let’s talk about fostering innovation in your cybersecurity culture.
What Is a Cybersecurity Culture of Innovation?
At the foundation of culture are people and behaviors. If those whose job is to protect data and networks have a closed mindset, fail to evolve their conceptions, or believe they are the smartest people in the room, culture will always be toxic. In these cases, risks become greater, turnover is high, and communication is nonexistent.
Conversely, a healthy culture has open-minded participants that want to work together effectively and continuously learn. That is an environment where innovation can thrive. It’s a place that welcomes new ideas, which can lead to a better security posture, engaged employees, and greater productivity. In this scenario, everyone benefits.
As you assess your current culture, you probably have gaps, some more than others. Filling those gaps aligns really well with the Secure Methodology™, so I’ll be referring to that as I describe the steps to take. The Secure Methodology is a seven-step guide for cybersecurity leaders to leverage to develop the people skills of technical folks. These steps don’t focus on cyber skills but rather interpersonal ones, which is the core of culture.
Building a Culture of Innovation
No matter where you’re starting in the culture journey, these pivotal elements will be necessary to propel your organization into one that’s agile, forward-thinking, and connected. Here are the areas to help you formulate a plan.
Cybersecurity Culture Involves Three Different Levels
When considering any culture configuration, there are always three levels to consider, from the top to the individual. While they have different roles in the organization and responsibilities around cybersecurity, they must work together to maintain a culture.
This segment is the c-suite, including the CEO and CISO. They must lead by example if they want the culture to permeate. They are top-level decision-makers, but those don’t happen in a vacuum. They need to understand risk and how cyber operations work, which requires clear, consistent communication from cyber teams and individuals. Unfortunately, communication is often the skill most lacking in technical employees. If those that set the strategy and budgets are only fed geek speak, culture leadership is working with a handicap.
Communication, of course, goes both ways. When leaders set a precedent on how they expect communication to flow, it can break down some barriers. In the end, the c-suite needs communication development, as well. It’s especially true regarding what questions they ask, which should be more granular than they might currently be.
Your cyber team comprises people with various skill sets, experience, and expertise. If they can build a coalition that taps into this, they’ll be at a good place regarding culture. However, we’re talking about behavior, communication, and cooperation. Those things are usually the Achilles’ heel of any cyber team.
The team dynamic and evolving it is a big part of the Secure Methodology. Its guidance takes into account the typical lack of people skills and how that impacts cybersecurity culture. Too often, your team operates in silos and wants to continue in this way. Many times, it’s about a fear that others will find out they don’t know everything. Except that’s precisely the kind of mindset you need to innovate!
When working on culture at this level, the Secure Methodology is an excellent framework that you can use to cultivate communication skills, awareness, empathy, and more.
The last layer of culture is the individual. What applies here is similar to the team level with caveats. The biggest of those is motivation, as each person has their own. At this level, as the leader, you must make specific connections to understand that individual’s capacity to change and grow. It’s the most challenging part of cultural shifts, and not every person on your team will be ready for this.
The Secure Methodology includes exercises throughout the seven steps to assist with this. How each person reacts to these will determine their long-term cultural fit.
Now that we’ve looked at each level of culture, here are some more tips you can use to further the pursuit of innovation.
Find Cultural Evangelists
Within your cyber staff, you’ll find those that are all-in on cementing culture as innovative. These people already have a good base of people skills and will prosper in this new dynamic. Assign those employees to be cultural evangelists. They can work together to develop training and upskilling opportunities. Since it’s coming from their peers, others may find this more inviting and appealing.
Define the Language of Innovation
Earlier I discussed the issues in communication among cyber professionals and mentioned their love of geek speak. Many use this language because they don’t want to reveal their weaknesses or limitations. It’s your job to banish this language and identify what the tenets of communication should be, which can include:
- Eliminating jargon that has no purpose
- Encouraging and promoting active listening skills, which are just as important as language
- Using inclusive language so that those individuals outside of cyber teams would understand
- Reframing communication as a way to reach a result that technical people can relate to
- Simplifying messaging
- Praising positive communication moments to reinforce the value of it
- Outlining how clear communication leads to innovation
Transform Fixed Mindsets into Growth Mindsets
Mindset is the second step in the Secure Methodology, and it is critical to culture. People either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. You, of course, want professionals with the latter. That doesn’t mean those with fixed ones can’t evolve and grow, but it does take work.
A fixed mindset hampers your organization’s ability to be proactive in security and forward-thinking. These folks don’t want to innovate around this because it’s too unknown and uncertain. It will also erode culture. Here are some key steps to transform mindsets:
- Coaching and reflection: When communicating with a fixed mindset, asking the right questions matters. You need to take them back to a moment when their fixed mindset was a barrier. Such a moment could instigate reflection and more awareness of their behaviors.
- Asking why: Again, questions posed to these folks can create aha moments. There’s an exercise called the 7 Levels Deep Exercise, which I recommend. It will help uncover motivations.
- Praising mindset changes: The third thing to do is to acknowledge and recognize when you see mindset shifts from fixed to growth. Something as simple as this can make a significant impact on future behavior.
To round out this discussion, I want to leave you with some additional insights into innovation and security.
Innovation and Security Aren’t Foes
One of the biggest misconceptions in the cyber world is that security is a barrier to innovation. Such a perspective is dangerous to your culture and ability to defend data and networks in the cyber war. Security does not impede innovation. In fact, they work together very well with the proper perspective.
It’s not unlike the principles of DevSecOps, where development, security, and operations convene. In this strategy, security is part of the conversation from the beginning. It has equal weight with development and procedures, as it should. You cannot have innovation without security. Innovation, at its core, is about devising solutions that enable better results. If security is outside the innovation bubble, you may have a good idea, but it won’t come to fruition. It won’t be deployable and scalable.
So, you must build the case that they both can coexist harmoniously and should always have a link. Otherwise, you’ll waste time, money, and resources. If you leverage the tips and ideas from this post, you can easily demonstrate how vital security is to innovation.
If you’re ready to build your culture of innovation, you should learn more about the Secure Methodology, which you can find in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room. Additionally, I have a Secure Methodology course, which delves further into the seven steps. Check them both out today.