Cybersecurity and Meaningful Work: Why New Generations Entering the Field Want Purpose

Cybersecurity Purpose - Christian EspinosaThe cybersecurity talent pipeline is facing the same challenges as many industries. A strong job market and low unemployment mean that many well-qualified professionals aren’t actively seeking new jobs. As a result, cybersecurity needs to look to the latest generation entering the workforce, Gen Z. Gen Z is a unique generation, which makes the ability to recruit and retain them much different. They have new ideas about work and that it should be more than a job and provide them with purpose and fulfillment—a trending topic in the world of HR known as meaningful work.

In this post, we’ll examine the Gen Z demographic, what matters to them, the concept of meaningful work, and how cybersecurity leaders can use this information to connect with a new generation of workers.

All About Gen Z and Their Entrance into the Workforce

Gen Z describes individuals born between 1997 and 2012. They currently make up almost 21% of the U.S. population. The oldest of this group have entered the job market, with many more to come in the next few years.

Gen Z is described as the most racially and ethnically diverse generation. They are also digital natives who have had a device in their hands most of their lives. This demographic has also been through many major events during their young lives, including the war on terror, a major recession where they witnessed parents and family members lose jobs, and the pandemic.

All these factors shape how they view work and what’s important to them. They are often adamant about work-life balance, flexibility, autonomy, and having modern technology as part of their job. In addition to these expectations, they also want to work for organizations that share their values. In fact, 77% of Gen Z said this was important in response to a survey conducted by Deloitte. Another thing they value highly in an employer is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which 87% agreed was critical when considering jobs.

Gen Z also cares about company culture. Cybersecurity should be very culture-focused, which could entice them. Overall, they want to work for a company that cares about their well-being.

Work for them isn’t about a “grind” or purely a transactional relationship. They desire meaningful work, and if it’s not present, they’ll have no problem moving to the next opportunity. Long gone are the days when employees worked for a single company their entire lives.

As a cybersecurity leader, ingesting this information about Gen Z may give you pause. Yet, they have some key attributes that make them attractive as workers beyond technical skills.

How Gen Z Workers Can Benefit Cybersecurity

Gen Z had a big head start on technology aptitude. It’s been part of their lives forever, and they’ve been early adopters. Beyond these skills, cybersecurity leaders are placing more emphasis on people skills, which is the central message in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room. These can be very hard to develop in older workers that have been in the industry for years.

The nature of Gen Z’s life experiences naturally predisposes them to value being communicators and collaborators. The stereotype of this group as never putting down their phones and being detached in communication isn’t accurate. They do love tech and spend lots of time on social media, but it’s not their entire personality.

Since they sincerely care about the world around them, they also understand the value of having strong interpersonal skills. Some might not be as confident in soft skills, but they won’t “fight” you on realizing the need to develop them as older generations may. As a result, they may be more amenable to participating in exercises, programs, and activities that will help them cultivate better people skills.

All these things make Gen Z an attractive group for cybersecurity careers. The onus of making your industry and company appealing has a lot to do with meaningful work.

What Is Meaningful Work?

Meaningful work is a newish concept in the world of HR. Its definition is somewhat flexible because “meaning” is subjective to an individual. The idea is universal in that it means that an employee believes the work to be important for the greater good and is part of something. As a result, workers are motivated and engaged in what they do.

Another aspect of meaningful work is that employees can use critical thinking skills and be problem-solvers versus taskmasters.

Both align with a career in cybersecurity and what Gen Z wants in a career. In the end, meaningful work is good for workers and businesses.

For example, employees who engage in meaningful work from their perspective may positively impact their mental health, something Gen Z is serious about. Healthier employees typically have fewer absences than their depressed counterparts. They’ll also be more engaged in building a strong cybersecurity culture and collaborating to do great things.

An environment of meaningful work supports retention, as well. The attachment that occurs in this situation delivers tangible benefits. Companies can see 50% less turnover and a 56% increase in job performance.

It can also deter burnout, which can be a problem in cybersecurity. It’s a high-stress field with many risks, threats, and stakeholders. If you have a team that feels the work is meaningful, that you and the organization value them, and is a culture that’s inclusive, you have an advantage over others. As a result, you’ll be a more attractive option for those entering the field.

So, how do you promote your company as one that delivers meaningful work?

Attracting Gen Z with the Promise of Meaningful Work

There are a few key strategies to consider when recruiting Gen Z and using the angle of meaningful work. First, it’s essential to know that Gen Z is proactive in their job search. For those in college, a quarter of them began job searching in the first two years. Second, they seek internships to get experience for the future and test out a field to see if it’s a good fit. Taking this into consideration, here are some ideas.

Partner with Universities and Community Colleges to Find Talent

Get to Gen Z while they are still learning by creating relationships with educational institutions. It’s an excellent way for students to become aware of your company. This can lead to mutually beneficial internships. The first impressions that Gen Z has about your company will matter, so talk about culture and how much you value interpersonal skills as much as technical ones.

Add Meaningful Work to Job Descriptions

Most cybersecurity job descriptions are dry and standard. It looks like a computer wrote it! Gen Z will not respond to this, as they value authenticity. Be honest in how you position your roles. Yes, it’s important to talk about technical skills, but you can also include that meaningful work is part of your organization and that you provide an environment where people can learn and grow.

Tap Your Current Gen Z Employees for Referrals

If you already have Gen Z workers on your team, talk to them about referrals. Ideally, if they are happy with the company and the work, they’ll be up for this. A referral is better than most applications for both parties. For you, it’s a sign that your employee vouches for them. For the candidate, they’ve heard about what it’s really like to work for you and weren’t discouraged by what they learned.

Once Gen Z becomes part of your group, you have another consideration that makes or breaks. How will older generations react to them?

Is Your Team Ready for Gen Z and Meaningful Work?

If you’ve made meaningful work a priority, then your current employees know this. However, it’s not going to matter to all of them. Some are still stuck in old perceptions about cybersecurity. Their “meaning” is that they are the smartest, most capable technical people. If that’s your current predicament, there will be some friction.

In a way, you have to prepare them for the entrance of Gen Z, which will require that they work on their people skills. Hopefully, they’ll realize this process benefits them in many ways. However, it involves change, and resistance is inevitable. Through the Secure Methodology™, which I developed in my book, you can find a seven-step guide on how to transform these outdated mindsets.

They’ll be helpful for all your employees, regardless of their generation. The way they respond and their effort will vary. Ultimately, you’re trying to work as a cohesive team that respects each other, cooperates well, communicates clearly, and can find meaning in what they do.

The journey ahead will be challenging at times. You have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of your employees and your company’s ability to manage risk and mitigate threats. Use the Secure Methodology as a blueprint to do that. Get the entire message by reading my book and check out the Secure Methodology course, as well.

Finding Your Purpose In Life: Understanding The 7 Levels Deep Exercise

Christian Espinosa - 7 Levels DeepThe concept of purpose is a very common theme in modern society. From movies to podcasts, successful artists, icons, and personalities — the importance of finding one’s purpose is regularly stressed. This is often concluded with the statement that once you do find it, the rest shall fall into place.

It goes without saying, of course, that for something that valuable, finding one’s purpose can be a tricky, arduous, and elusive task. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone else would be doing it. As we can see in our society, however, this is obviously not necessarily so.

Too often do we see people who are either lost or confused. Most are also accustomed to just walking aimlessly in their everyday life without direction and simply fulfilling their needs as they come along.

There are some fortunate individuals, however, who perhaps by chance or luck or something else were able to find their purpose — their “why” — early on. Those are exceptions to the general rule.

Thankfully, the general rule need no longer be set in stone. You may not know it yet, but ultimately, you have the power to effectively change your life. You have the power to find your purpose. And one of the many ways you can do this is by following the 7 Levels Deep Exercise.

What Is the 7 Levels Deep Exercise?

The 7 Levels Deep Exercise is a series of deep and philosophical questions that intend to draw out hidden thoughts, feelings, and emotions from the person doing the exercise — with the end goal of leading said person to find out his or her “why” about a specific aspect of life.

The “why?” in this case can be interpreted in several ways, but ultimately, it all boils down to leading the person to find their purpose.

Why Do I Need to Find My Purpose?

Having a clear understanding of “purpose” is crucial to living a balanced, healthy, and successful life. While it may be true that success is capable of varying interpretations and can be subjected to multiple perspectives, it cannot be denied that in order to reach your version of success, having a purpose is essential. After all, how can you know if you’ve reached something if you did not know what you wanted to reach or achieve in the first place?

Purpose gives us direction — a goal to strive towards. Purpose also gives us courage. When we have a purpose and are infused with it, we will stretch our comfort zone. While in our possession, purpose also serves to dictate how we do or act in society, how we lead our lives each day, and how we view or perceive life in general.

What Is the Process?

As the name suggests, the 7 Levels Deep Exercise is done by simply asking yourself 7 questions. Companies and institutions that employ this exercise often modify and change their line of questioning in order to suit their goals and needs, but essentially, these questions boil down to the following:

  • First, ask yourself what you want to do or achieve in life. At this stage, you can answer or interpret the question in any way you want to
  • Second, ask yourself why this is important to you.
  • Third, whatever answer you chose to give for the second step, ask yourself again why that particular response is important to you.
  • Fourth, ask yourself again why that response is something that you deem important.
  • Finally, do this line of questioning three more times, or otherwise, a fifth, sixth, and seventh time.

As you move along down the line — or as you go “deeper” down the levels — you may notice that these are not simple questions, and finding an answer may prove difficult. When you feel lost or become confused, don’t fret! This simply means that you are now opening the doors to your mind, to your heart, and to your emotions to paths that you most likely never knew you had. This path is a road of discovery and enlightenment, and you would be surprised what you discover as you go deeper along the journey.

What Is the Best Way To Do These Exercises?

Before you jump on this path, be aware and careful that just like any journey in life, you may become susceptible to falling into traps or pitfalls.

To minimize the risk of falling prey to these traps or pitfalls, it’s crucial that you’re completely honest with yourself. Lying about your responses benefits no one and showing off serves no important purpose. Be sincere, take your time, and do not be afraid to be too emotional about your responses. The responses need to come from your heart, not your head. The responses need to resonate with you at a visceral level.

Also, when presented with these questions, it’s best that you get someone else to ask them for you. Get a loved one, a coach, a special partner, a family member, or any other person that you trust. This way, you may find it easier to be forthright.

As you dig deeper within yourself, you may sometimes find yourself trapped in an endless loop of “whys”. If the same line of questioning becomes too repetitive to the point that your answers in all the stages are simply becoming recurrent and repetitive, then try to change your line of questioning to “what” or “how”, instead of “why”.

Finally, note that there’s no time constraint to doing this exercise. If it takes you days to answer the questions as you go deeper along the levels, then do so. The most important factor to consider is finding that mine of emotions stored deep within you that only you can find, and no one else.

Take the Next Step Further. Start Today!

In my book about “The Smartest Person in the Room”, I used the 7 Levels Deep Exercise to formulate my own methodology in creating new and improved ways on how to develop better technical leaders — a method I call “The Secure Methodology”.

Under this methodology, I outline 7 important steps that may help individuals develop better interpersonal, leadership, and life skills. In coming up with these steps, I made sure to use the 7 Levels Deep Exercise as my foundation.

You can learn more about these steps and about my Secure Methodology in my book, “The Smartest Person in the Room: The Root Cause and New Solution for Cybersecurity”, available on Amazon and other fine book stores.

Check Out The Smartest Person in The Room

Are You Effectively Motivating Cybersecurity Professionals?

cybersecurity professional motivationMotivation is a very personal and subjective thing. What motivates one person may not the next. How leaders inspire their teams isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and motivating cybersecurity professionals can be challenging on many fronts.

While you can “lump” cybersecurity professionals into a group of being technically minded, digging deeper into what motivates them requires various approaches. So, we have to determine first what motivation means in the field, something I cover in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room.

In this post, I’ll provide points made in the book and offer some tips on more impactful motivation strategies.

What Does Motivation Mean in the Cybersecurity Field?

To consider what motivation means to those whose job it is to protect your data, it’s also essential to look at what it means for those on the other side. Cybercriminals are intensely motivated to do what they do. They have a lot of passion for it, either because it’s their livelihood or for other nefarious reasons.

Sometimes, understanding the enemy in the cybersecurity war can be a source of motivation for the good guys. But your employees and the field, in general, don’t have that all-consuming drive like cybercriminals do.

Defining what motivation means in cybersecurity isn’t easy. You could broadly say it’s money or power or recognition, or they really love it. What you’ll learn is there are only two true motivators in the world, and everything starts from there.

There Are Only Two True Motivators for People

Motivation is complex, with many shades of gray. But, fundamentally, there are only two — pain and pleasure. We either want to do something that will bring us positive consequences or avoid negative ones. It kind of creates a spectrum, and everyone lands in different places. These true motivators are always going to be the starting place when you want to influence others.

There’s No Motivation Without the “Why”

Everybody has a “why.” It’s their internal engine that guides them through the decisions they make and the actions they take. A “why” isn’t always straightforward and strong. Some people are still figuring it out, and it can certainly change over time. For example, someone’s “why” for starting a cybersecurity career could have been because they were eager for responsibility. Years later, it could be more of a desire to bring home a good paycheck for their family.

Unless you know the “why” behind your folks, it will be nearly impossible to motivate them. Sometimes, it’s apparent because of the way they act. Other times, it’s not so obvious. And a “why” doesn’t always correlate with a strong desire to do good work. So, how do you do this?

Understanding Their Motivation

From actions to words to performance, you can hopefully build the framework of understanding motivation. It’s going to fit in those two categories. Are they motivated toward gaining something positive or avoiding something negative?

Once you recognize what influences them, you will need to craft better communication that makes an impact. If you do, you can help those people grow and improve their people skills. That can lead to permanent change that enhances their life and the company’s ability to manage cybersecurity initiatives.

Using Exercises to Determine Motivation: 7 Levels Deep

Seeking out the motivation of others can be a bit of an expedition. You have to dig deep into someone. I’ve tried a practice called the 7 Levels Deep Exercise from Millionaire Success Habits by Dean Graziosi. It consists of asking questions that keep building on the previous answer, and every question begins with why. Seven is the average number of questions to reveal the motivation, but it may take more for some people.

By continuing with “why,” you can peel back the layers to find the true motivation. To come away with an “aha” moment, the person answering has to have an emotional connection to the “why.”

Everyone needs a reason for what they do or how they act. Before you can support team members in improving their soft skills, you must crack that egg on the “why.”

There’s an exercise in my book that uses the 7 Levels Deep framework, and the starting question is, “Why did you start working in the industry?”

This exercise won’t uncover purpose, but it will define motivation, which is critical to shifting mindset because motivation and mindset are part of the same ecosystem.

Motivation Ties to Mindset

These two aspects of a person are intertwined. When they are both askew, that person probably won’t embrace change. If your team members don’t have the right motivation, it will be difficult for them to have a mindset about achieving goals around cybersecurity practices. What’s the “right” reason? There’s no definitive answer to this, but it’s about being committed to adapting, learning, and growing. If someone doesn’t have the desire to do these things, they won’t be very successful.

It’s also important to note that motivation is what prompts somebody to start something — a career, relationship, commitment to evolve, etc. It’s forming a habit from that, which enables a person to keep moving forward.

7 Tips for Motivating Cybersecurity Professionals

How can you be a great motivator? Rousing speeches and pointing to an “other enemy” (cybercriminals) are traditional approaches to motivation. Looking at it from a different perspective may be more impactful. Based on the Secure Methodology, a big part of my book, I’m going to share some ways that you can motivate to create a desire to change and grow.

  1. Be empathetic: Empathetic leadership is critical to so many aspects of working relationships. Being compassionate means putting yourself in another’s shoes and doing so with compassion. It doesn’t mean you make excuses for bad behavior or work, but empathy is vital in motivating others. If you don’t have it, everything will fall flat.
  2. Help them figure out their “why”: The 7 Levels Deep framework is an excellent tool for this, but some people may need extra help because they don’t know, at least not consciously. Investing time supporting someone as they define their “why” can go a long way in building trust. If employees trust you, it’s much easier to motivate them.
  3. Consider their necessity motivations: Before, we talked about that there are only two motivators — pleasure and pain. The basis of these is necessity. Motivation is strongest when we need something. Talk to team members openly about necessity in motivation, but that’s the foundation for creating habits.
  4. Communicate with transparency: Another critical point in motivation is communication. It’s an integral part of every component of leading a team. Communication drives motivation, either to the positive or negative. If your communication lacks transparency, emotion, and authenticity, it will fall on deaf ears. Cultivating your communication skills will enhance this and instill a behavior model that others may emanate.
  5. Foster autonomy: Technical folks don’t want to be micro-managed. In fact, no one does. People usually respond well to autonomy. They have a feeling of responsibility, which could be a motivator. Autonomy isn’t blindly given because that can go awry if someone doesn’t have a growth mindset or a deeper “why.” People can earn it by being dependable, honest, curious, and receptive.
  6. Create a collaborative culture: For any group to be successful, collaboration is necessary. While technical departments have a history of working in silos, that’s not going to benefit anyone. If you can create real moments of collaboration, both on specific work and through other team-building exercises, it can effectively motivate people. If people feel part of something and that others depend on them to do their job well, it could go a long way to developing a healthy environment.
  7. Embrace agility: Adapting in cybersecurity is fundamental because everything’s constantly changing. There’s also been an acceleration of digital transformation. If your group can be nimble and embrace agility, it will help their people and technical skills. It can also be a motivator. If team members see that the cybersecurity strategy isn’t stuck and is evolving, they may appreciate that they can, too.

Is Your Team Motivated?

Motivating cybersecurity professionals is tricky and so personal. Once you zero in on it and understand it, there are specific steps you can take to inspire others. For more insights on how to do this, read my book, The Smartest Person in the Room. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, your team, and how to navigate the cybersecurity ecosystem.