Monthly Archives: September 2015

Creating Sustainable Cultural Change

In previous articles in this series on differentiating your InfoSec consulting company, we’ve talked about the importance of two core areas:

  • Process improvement and
  • Improving the customer experience

Most everyone would agree these are worthwhile aims. We all want our processes to get better and more efficient, and we all want clients to be satisfied with our work. Truly improving in these areas requires a culture aligned with these values.

But the nature of many InfoSec companies can make it difficult to change the culture. For one thing, there is often a rather frantic focus on just getting projects finished, and this doesn’t leave time to discuss bigger picture philosophies or allow time to get everyone onboard for a larger process change.

Also, the high value of technical talent often means that managers are hesitant to tackle process changes. They don’t want to take the risk of aggravating talent; they want to keep them happy. Keeping talent happy is a great goal, of course–it only becomes a negative when it interferes with other, important areas of improvement.

In this article, we’ll go over some strategies for enacting sustainable process change at your InfoSec company whilst keeping your team members happy. This article will assume you have either already read the other articles in our series or that you have some specific cultural changes you want to implement but are having some problems.

Explain How Changes Impact The Customer

Any meaningful improvement to a product or service will stem from a focus on the client experience. And most team members do want their clients to have a good experience.

But you must explain to your team members why your proposed changes are important to your clients. For example. it’s not enough to simply command: “Starting today, you must create testing methodologies after every project and share them with the team.” Your team must fully understand the full chain of events that make a new procedure important, which would go something like this:

  1. Improving methodologies means less time spent on easily repeatable tasks.
  2. Less time spent on easily repeatable tasks means more time spent on unique project challenges.
  3. More time spent on unique challenges means better service for the client.

And they should understand the downside to continuing to do things the old way.

For example, when all team members use their own methodologies and there is no consistency from project to project, this hurts the client’s experience (especially for repeat clients).

Major takeaway: Talk to your team about the greater philosophical reasons for your changes. Make them see that you are doing this for the customer.

Explain How Changes Impact The Team

In a similar way, team members need to see how changes help them do their job more easily and help them hone their craft. The logic here is basically:

  1. Making procedures more efficient means team members spend less project time on easily repeatable tasks.
  2. This leaves team members more project time for doing the fun and creative hacking–the stuff they love to do.
  3. More time spent on interesting and challenging hacking makes a hacker smarter and better at his job, which improves his standing in the industry, increases his reputation, payrate, etc.

To create real cultural change, it’s necessary to get true buy-in from everyone. And this means that your team needs to see what’s in it for them. The more you can make them see what’s in it for them, the more buy-in you get and the easier it is to shift the culture.

If you haven’t already, check out one of our past articles on how more process standardization can, perhaps counterintuitively to some people, actually increase creativity.

Get Management and Influential People Onboard

If a large company change does not have the buy-in of senior and influential members of your team, it probably won’t succeed. For example, if you have a senior tester or manager denigrate a new process openly, that has a huge impact on whether the people working with him will be more or less likely to use it.

To mitigate this conflict, try to help these team members understand the importance of the changes you’ve put in place, both for your clients and for them personally. Also explain that their buy-in is especially important in creating a trickle-down effect in the company.

An important point: You may have employees who are not technically in powerful positions but who nonetheless may be very socially influential. It’s important to discover who those team members are so you can do your best to persuade them, too.

A potential stumbling block. One possible obstacle is that some of your more senior team members may have had negative past experiences with failed process overhauls. They may be thinking, “Yeah, I’ve seen people try to do this kind of thing before. It’s pointless and won’t work.” This is actually a great opportunity to ask those members about those past attempts at change. What worked and why did it work? What didn’t work and why not? If you give them a chance to be a part of the discussion, they will feel more involved and positive about the effort.

Use Real Stories

When you try to sell the changes to your team, use real stories and anecdotes. Real stories are powerful and convincing and help people see the value of the new way of doing things. This is why companies use testimonials from customers to show the value of their products. Thought of in another way, what you are doing can be thought of as selling ideas to your team, so be willing to use any promotional tactics at your disposal.

For example, at a team meeting, you can talk about how a new procedure resulted in measurable positive results for a specific client, and read a testimonial from the satisfied client. Go on to explain how that got you thinking about extrapolating similar results across the board, and how that translated into the changes that you are going to be implementing over the next few weeks. They key message to convey is that new ideas are not coming out of thin air; they are grounded in solid value added to your clients, the company or the team. You just need to find the right way to let team members know how you got to the conclusions you did, and what needs to happen next.

Or you can get a team member to describe how a new procedure saved them time on a project and how they had more time to devote to tests that were actually intellectually engaging.

Consider Remote Workers

These days, most InfoSec companies rely on remote workers. If you have remote workers, don’t forget about them. Process changes need to be done company-wide or it’s unlikely they’ll be successful.

Plan ways to communicate the new processes to your remote workers. When was the last time you had a one-to-one with each of your remote workers? How can you expect for them to be invested and onboard new processes if you haven’t checked in with them for several months? Schedule video conferences and make sure your team knows that these are important events. If anyone can’t attend them (e.g. they need to be off-site for a client visit), go out of your way to bring them in the loop. You need to reach out to anyone and take the time to explain the importance of what you are doing, if you want them to embrace your ideas.

If at all possible, consider having all your workers travel to a single location to roll out and talk about the new changes.

Set Goals That Are Measurable (and Failable)

When the goals of a change initiative are too vague, the initiative will rarely succeed. You need to have goals that are measurable, so that you know if the cultural changes are sticking. You need to have goals that can fail, so that you know when you are not succeeding.

For example, if one of your goals is something ambiguous like: “Improve internal understanding of tech methodologies,” there is no real way to measure that. You will never know if you’ve actually succeeded.

So make your goals concrete and measurable, like “Review 1–2 methodologies each month.”

Go For Small Wins (and Small Failures)

It can be daunting to create large cultural and procedural changes at a company, we know. Especially because the people responsible for those changes can sometimes be blamed for things that go wrong.

So it’s worth pointing out that some of the best and most long-lasting process improvements start small and grow from there. You should focus on making small but lasting and widely-used improvements. You don’t have to roll out a hugely complex series of changes all at once. Instead, you can make small changes that create noticeable benefits, then track and measure them. This will create a snowball effect that leads to bigger and more widespread changes.

For some of our best ideas on making this happen in your company, read “Getting Quick Wins”.


Hopefully this article has shown you a few ideas for creating long-lasting, sustainable cultural change at your InfoSec consulting company. If you liked this article, check back on our site for future related articles.

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Security Roots’ founder Daniel Martin conceived and created the open-source collaboration tool Dradis Framework in 2007. The success of that application led to the creation of the Security Roots company and Dradis Professional Edition software.

Over the years, Security Roots has helped hundreds of InfoSec clients improve their team collaboration and report creation processes. If you have any questions about what we do or the solutions we provide, please fill out our Contact Form and we’ll be in touch right away.