How to Build a Culture of Security

Strategic Security

​​Illustration by Sam Ward​​

How to Build a Culture of Security
 

Security is everyone’s business” may be a popular truism in the industry, but how many security managers can honestly say this philosophy is practiced by their companies? Some organizations have regular incidents in which employees simply disregard security rules and regulations. Sometimes, even the leaders of a company will disobey security and safety rules out of a sense of entitlement—these rules are for employees, not executives.

These lapses can be costly. It is only when everyone associated with the company adheres to and executes security rules and practices on a daily basis that a firm can credibly claim that it maintains a true culture of security.    

To determine whether a company encourages an effective security culture, company leaders should start by determining whether it adheres to the appropriate best practices. The security department should develop and communicate security rules, practices, and procedures to employees, contractors, visitors, and vendors. Executives must lead by example and follow all security practices and procedures. Employees must take care of their security responsibilities at work, such as locking their work spaces and computers or asking to see a badge of a person in a secure work area instead of simply holding open an outer perimeter door for a stranger to be polite.   

If an organization follows most of these procedures, it maintains a robust culture of security. If not, the best practice advice and solutions stated below can be used by security leaders to strengthen security awareness in their companies and develop a culture of security. ​

The Assessment

A culture of security can only be built on a solid foundation. And that foundation is an effective security program. 

However, if the security program is perceived as inconsistent or unprofessional, an initiative to build a culture of security around it will be doomed from the start. Thus, it is imperative to conduct an initial assessment of the security program to evaluate past security practices and present security operations. 

The assessment must include, but should not be limited to, the following methodology:

  • Conduct interviews with security staff to determine past practices and to engage them in the assessment process.
  • Review and evaluate existing documents regarding past security missions.
  • Review and evaluate security staff job descriptions.
  • Review and evaluate security current procedures, processes, and guidelines. 
  • Review and evaluate the security budget to ensure that it is in line with the mission, and that funded programs are not obsolete.
  • Spend time working directly with all security staff to obtain first-hand knowledge regarding daily duties. Get to know your people.
  • Review and evaluate any compliance tasks that have been assigned to security.
  • Review, evaluate, and coordinate security requirements with heads of departments with security cross-functionality. Conduct collaborative meetings with other department heads and staff on their opinions of security.
  • Obtain input from executive management on its vision of security.
  • Define and document your company-specific security missions.
  • Review the security requirements within these missions and analyze them for potential mission creep.
     

The Blueprint

Once past and present security operations have been assessed, organization leaders can plan for the future by improving and refining, based upon the factual analysis that has already been completed.

The first part of the blueprint process is to develop missions and objectives. This includes enlisting management for direction and involvement and establishing security goals and engaging security team members in ways to accomplish them. This part of the process also includes documenting security mission statements and assigning a leader to each one. These leaders must be capable and willing.

The second part of the blueprint pro­cess is to standardize operations and document these procedures in a manual of operations. This manual will serve as a central repository of security standard operating procedures and processes that cover core duties and responsibilities throughout the company. 

Once the assessment is completed and the blueprint is in place, security managers must ensure that key attributes of the program are successfully maintained. These attributes include consistent pro­fessionalism, first-rate training and com­munications, a commitment to the program from upper management, and procedures designed to address violations.​

Professionalism

Professionalism is a crucial component of a strong security culture. The professional security staff and security officers should be a model for the organization’s general population. High standards of conduct should be set; staff and officers should be evaluated; and problems should be weeded out. Most important, security department leaders should live those high standards to set an example for others to follow. 

Specific best practices can ensure that staff members and officers consistently project a strong level of professionalism to other company personnel. One of these is presence. Uniforms, if worn, should be consistent. Officers should engage all persons entering the facility with eye contact. Officers should not be texting or talking on their cell phones, or congregating in an area to smoke and joke.             

Security leaders must also be careful to prevent “mission creep,” or assigning nonsecurity duties to security personnel. This may distract security staffers from their core duties, to the detriment of the organization’s security culture.  

For example, one company used the security department to conduct security training as well as training in legal issues, compliance, and ethics. Security’s training duties also included tracking of annual requirements for all of the compliance-based training, for both employees and nonemployees. The two training avenues, employee and nonemployee, were not standardized between departments. Because of the lack of standardization, there were two completely different methods of administering, developing, and tracking training.   

In this case, the solution was to clearly define the security and human resources missions at the company. Once defined, human resources assumed control of the entire company training program and standardized the administration of training. Security was responsible only for content of any security-related training.​

Training

A strong security culture requires an effective training program for both existing and future security personnel. In addition, the process should ensure that security personnel are cross-trained in security position responsibilities and missions, to eliminate the potential for gaps in coverage should a critical team member be unavailable. 

For example, if a company’s security missions are asset protection, compliance, and physical access control, the manual of operations would contain a section of step-by-step procedures and guidelines for each. This would allow the asset protection specialist to cover for the physical access control specialist for certain tasks, such as issuing badges, instead of waiting for the access control specialist to return. 

In addition, companies should pay close attention to the processes and standards for granting and tracking access that are documented in the manual of operations. This can be an issue if companies have manual, cumbersome, or archaic methods for granting access. At many companies, this is an area that needs to be addressed. The granting of physical access should be automated to an electronic format.​

Communication

Communication is one of the critical keys to success in any security program, and it will be part of every component of the program. From the initial assessment of the program to the final phases of the implementation of blueprint plans, all affected parties should be kept informed and aware of the security program and how it will impact their operations at work.  

One company initiated a report that was sent twice a month via e-mail with the facts of any security incidents, so executives could track important issues. This communication also allowed security to remain within the scope of the executives while maintaining a successful program. As security expanded and implemented new initiatives, these were included in the bimonthly report. 

For their part, the executives of the firm should be involved and engaged early on in the communications effort. Security should offer concise presentations, such as a PowerPoint presentation, that explain how the company benefits from the security program, be it through incident prevention or the preparedness to react and minimize negative impact to the company’s operations. Security goals, objectives, operations, procedures, and mission statements should be effectively communicated across the corporate footprint. Executives should understand the security role in their company and communicate their support for security programs to all company employees.  

Within the chain of command, the security leader must develop a system of communication to keep executives aware of the challenges faced by the security department and of the programs currently being used to protect the company’s physical assets. For example, at one company I worked at, security mandated monthly luncheon meetings with staff.

Company executives were also invited to these meetings, which they attended periodically. I documented each of these meetings in formal memoranda, including progress made on issues from the prior month, issues resolved, and problems currently being addressed. These memos were sent up the chain of command for executive review.  

Annual security awareness training is another effective communications tool. By delivering accurate, updated, and simple instructions regarding security rules, policies, and procedures, the company can effectively ensure that its workforce has been periodically exposed to security standards and the roles and responsibilities in daily operations. Security awareness posters that are updated quarterly can also help in communication efforts.   

 Finally, do not underestimate the power of word of mouth. For any company, there is no stronger security tool than having a workforce that is security- minded and well informed of current security policies, procedures, and daily practices. ​

Violations

Even with a well-established culture of security, violations of an organization’s security policies will occur.   

There are slips and breaches even in the most secure environments—some caused by intentional acts; some unintentionally, through malaise or misfortune. And while the people who work for an organization are its greatest asset, they also can be its greatest vulnerability if they decide to inflict harm. They know how the organization operates, and they can circumvent the most sophisticated security systems.  

For private industry, the enforcement of security program policies requires a company to be fair, firm, and consistent. Take, for example, a company that has a clear security rule that all visitors must be escorted by the company representative who is responsible for the visitor while on premises. If a visitor is found roaming around by himself in a secure area, the employee who brought the visitor to the property should be disciplined.  

And the discipline should be consistent, whether the employee is the CEO or the janitor. The enforcement should be documented and tracked, to monitor patterns of behavior. If the violation is severe enough that it results in a loss of property or affects employee safety, the matter should be referred to the violator’s manager for evaluation and possible further action. 

Consistent and fair enforcement of the rules across the entire organization will further solidify a culture of security. It will demonstrate that security matters to the organization, and that it plans to ensure that the rules are followed. To expand on an earlier example, if the CEO forgets his or her access badge and either goes home and gets it or signs for a temporary one, the standard is set at the highest level of the company.  

In the end, success in developing a culture of security at your company will mean the organization has established a robust, comprehensively assessed, and documented security program across the enterprise. Executive leaders are meaningfully engaged, and everyone is educated in the program’s components and follows them. 

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Thomas Trier served for 25 years as a special agent of the FBI, where he attained the rank of assistant special agent in charge in the intelligence branch of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Trier has also served as the leader of corporate security for a Midwestern electrical transmission-only utility company. He now provides advisory services through Security Intelligence Consulting L.L.C.