Impact of culture & morale on ROI


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With the help of one of our newest Swimlane team members, Rebekah Wilke, we were able to tap into a new landscape emerging within cyber as a service. In her previous role, Rebekah was responsible for a large-scale managed security service leading a national team of analysts, engineers, incident responders, and managers who secure some of the most high profile networks in the federal, financial, commercial, and utility industries.

She is passionate about building effective teams that are comprised of intelligent, thought-provoking people who are passionate about what they do; whether that be in work or in daily life. Building and being part of a dynamic team, Rebekah honed in on the impact morale had on ROI.

Q: How did you measure the effectiveness of your team? Which metrics did you use?
A: Over time I’ve learned that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. With that said, there are creative ways to determine how an effective team is performing. Instead of using metrics to determine team performance I find it beneficial to tie culture and morale to the overall output of team. For example, helpfulness was a “metric”, to coin your term, that I often used when looking at the overall team. Helpfulness is important for fostering a culture of teamwork that allows the group to perform better when tackling difficult tasks.

Another measurement that I paid close attention to was initiative. It’s nice when those you work with ask what’s needed and where they can help. It’s even nicer when they see a need and take steps to meet it on their own. An employee that takes initiative is definitely a sign of team satisfaction and engagement. Looking at team members who take initiative is also important for growing businesses and for rapidly changing workplaces that require people who can adapt and be proactive.

Q: How did you quantify ROI for board members or senior leadership?
A: That is like hitting a moving target. By staying in tune with and evaluating the needs of the leadership team there were several key areas that we employed:

  • Identify opportunities for improvement
  • Demonstrate values in terms that actually resonate with the Leadership Team
  • Build confidence in the team’s ability to contribute to the overall organization’s vision
  • Provide executive leadership the transparency to see the impact of all programs and how they benefit team success and hurdles

Every day was a balance of what we do and how we do it with the benefits and costs of doing it. Organizations–large and small–have only so many resources and learning to balance benefits with costs is a clear path to using resources in a wisely manner.

Q: How do you keep a diverse set of skills in each team?
A: Listening. Hear what your mid-level managers are saying and hear what the guys and gals in the trenches are telling you. Determine where the talent deficits are, place a priority level on them and act. If your team sees management fighting for them it bolsters a sense of “we are all in this fight together.”

Q: How did you keep teams working together versus working in silos?
A: I think this is summed up with one word, relationships. More meaningful relationship building outside of the naturally created silos will gradually dilute the strength of those barriers. I found over time that this improves trust and the willingness to share information regularly. Bottom line, if everyone is working towards the same common goal and clearly understands their particular role it seems to move the ship in the right direction.
So, to break it down:

  • Create a unified vision/culture
  • Work towards achieving a common goal
  • Motivate and incentivize
  • Execute, collaborate, then create

Q: What advice would you give to a SOC manager who is having a hard time justifying more headcount?
A: Overworked employees are stressed and that usually results in less productivity and less profits. New hires can alleviate the workload and boost morale among existing team members, which will help get motivation back on track. I think a simple internal off-the-record audit of the staff’s workload is one method for creating a case that more help is needed. I would often use this to prove how my plan would relieve the existing team’s workload creating higher efficiencies.

Secondly, I would make sure that I was aligned with the organization’s strategic direction. This gave my business case the proper footing relative to overall financial metrics, real information from real data.

Then I would often focus on revenue impact.

  • If we are understaffed, what are overtime costs?
  • If the team is overworked, what is the cost associated with turnover Recruiting costs can often become a major distraction and a heavy burden. Essentially, how can a SOC manager help the C-Suite move hiring initiatives from the cost column to the profit column?

Q: How did you create change without disrupting process?
A: You don’t. I think part of creating change is so that it does disrupt process. A lot of times we see larger organizations bogged down in processes and procedures, which stifles them from being agile and innovative. I think this is one of the largest hurdles I personally faced as my team grew, and we often bantered about the operation being like a complex Rubik’s cube. Erno Rubik’s purpose in developing the Cube was solving the structural problems of moving all of the parts independently without the entire mechanism falling apart.

Q: What advice would you give to other managers who want to scale their security teams when the business gains more customers?
A: Don’t be afraid to delegate and to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Q: How did you keep your team passionate and engaged in their work? How did you prevent burnout?
A: First I think it’s important to understand some of the signs of fading work passion. Once you understand some of the symptoms you can then develop unique ways to keep your team engaged. For instance, the fear of making mistakes. I strongly believe that harnessing a culture that challenges employees to take risks and discuss mis-steps encourages innovative thinking.
Another red flag I would look for is when team members stop helping each other. It’s extremely important that healthy collaboration, mentorship, and guidance become ingrained into the team’s core value system.
Keeping passion alive is a constant, ever changing process that requires care and feeding. Several successes my Leadership Team and I found was simply getting to know each other and celebrating milestones together. Fostering healthy connections with colleagues builds trust that ultimately finds its way back to the workspace.

Questions for @rebek_w? Ask away!