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A Guide to Measuring Your Security Awareness Training Program Culture

Larkin Anders

As a security professional, you're well aware of the crucial role that a robust security culture plays in the overall security posture of your organization. However, one of the biggest challenges lies in effectively assessing and measuring your efforts. So, how can you ensure that your program is not just a tick-box exercise but genuinely enhances the security mindset of your team?

In this blog post, we'll delve into practical strategies and key performance indicators that will help you qualitatively assess the impact and effectiveness of your security awareness initiatives.

What is a Security-aware Culture?

Before we dive into measuring the effectiveness of your security awareness training program, it's crucial to understand what we mean by a "security-aware culture." In the simplest terms, a security-aware culture in an organization is one where every member, from the top executives to the newest hires, consistently recognizes and respects the importance of cybersecurity. It's a workplace environment where security isn't seen as just the IT department's responsibility but as a fundamental aspect of everyone's role.

In a security-aware culture:

  • Awareness is Constant: Employees are not only trained about security risks; they are encouraged to stay vigilant at all times. This continuous awareness translates into everyday actions, such as recognizing phishing attempts, using strong passwords, and following company security policies.
  • Security is Integrated: Security practices are seamlessly integrated into daily workflows. Rather than being an afterthought or a periodic compliance exercise, security becomes a part of the standard operating procedures across the organization.
  • Everyone Contributes: Every team member feels responsible for the organization's security. Employees understand how their actions can impact the overall security posture and are motivated to act accordingly.
  • Learning is Ongoing: A security-aware culture fosters an environment of continuous learning and improvement. Employees are regularly updated about the latest security threats and best practices, and they are encouraged to share their insights and experiences.
  • Open Communication: There is an emphasis on open communication about security issues. Employees feel comfortable reporting potential security threats without fear of reprimand, and there is a clear protocol for such reporting.

Building and sustaining a security-aware culture is a journey, not a one-time effort. It requires consistent reinforcement and a holistic approach that goes beyond mere compliance. 

Why is it Important?

In essence, a strong security culture is important because it acts as the first line of defense against cyber threats. What we mean by that is by cultivating a resilient and informed security-aware culture, you are empowering your employees to make informed decisions, reducing the likelihood of human error - one of the leading causes of security incidents. This empowerment leads to a more proactive attitude towards security and a stronger sense of responsibility. Significantly reducing the risk of data breaches, which can lead to severe financial losses, legal ramifications, and damage to your organization's reputation. 

All in all, a security-aware culture is the foundation of an overall healthy and resilient organization. It protects not only your data and systems but fortifies your organization’s reputation, compliance posture, and operational continuity.

The Shift From Quantitative to Qualitative Key Results

As organizations mature in their approach to cybersecurity, there's a significant shift in focus from purely quantitative metrics, like phishing click rates, to more qualitative aspects of a security-aware culture. This evolution marks a deeper understanding that fostering a robust security environment is less about counting clicks and more about shaping attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward cybersecurity.

Quantitative measurements, such as the number of phishing simulation clicks, are straightforward and offer a clear-cut view of specific aspects of security awareness. They are essential in providing baseline data on how employees respond to common threats. However, these figures only tell part of the story. They don't necessarily reflect the depth of an employee's understanding of cybersecurity principles or their commitment to proactive security practices. This is where qualitative measurements come into play.

Shifting to qualitative key results involves delving into the nuances of employees' attitudes and behaviors. It's about understanding why an employee clicked on a phishing link—was it a lack of awareness, disregard for protocols, or perhaps a need for more targeted training? This approach requires methods such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups, which provide insights into employees' thought processes, concerns, and levels of engagement with cybersecurity initiatives.

This qualitative shift is crucial because a security-aware culture is built on more than just reflexive responses to potential threats; it's built on a foundational understanding and a mindset that prioritizes security in day-to-day operations. When employees internalize the importance of cybersecurity, their actions become more intentional and proactive rather than reactive.

Therefore, while quantitative data is still relevant, the true measure of a security-aware culture lies in these qualitative aspects. Understanding employees' attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors offers a richer, more comprehensive view of the organization's security posture. It enables the tailoring of training and awareness programs to address specific needs and reinforces a culture where security is a shared responsibility that is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the organization.

In essence, the shift from quantitative to qualitative key results is a shift towards a more holistic, employee-centered approach to cybersecurity. It acknowledges that a truly secure organization is one where every member is not only aware but also deeply invested in maintaining a strong and proactive security culture. So, let’s dive into some key qualitative metrics, how to obtain them, and ways to take action.

Key Qualitative Indicators and How to Get Them

Establishing a security-aware culture is one thing, but how do you know if your efforts are truly paying off? Measuring the effectiveness of your security awareness training is crucial to ensure that it’s not only resonating with your team but also positively impacting their behavior. So, let’s explore some key measurements and how you can obtain them.

Conduct Culture Surveys to Identify Trends

One of the most direct and insightful ways to gauge the effectiveness of your security awareness program is through culture surveys. These surveys are designed to measure your team’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors towards cybersecurity. Revealing a ton about the underlying security culture in your organization.

Designing the Survey

When it comes to designing culture surveys, the key is to ask relevant questions that resonate with your organization’s specific security policies, practices, and potential challenges. Include practical scenarios that reflect daily work situations to assess employees’ understanding accurately. It’s also crucial to ensure anonymity with these surveys. Employees are more likely to provide honest and open feedback if they are confident that their responses cannot be traced back to them. 

In terms of frequency, conducting these surveys regularly, such as annually or bi-annually, is ideal. This approach allows for tracking changes over time and can be especially useful after significant training initiatives or updates to security policies.

Analyzing Survey Responses

The analysis of survey responses should focus on identifying trends and patterns in the data. Look for areas that exhibit a high level of understanding and compliance, as well as those where there are apparent gaps, misconceptions, or negative attitudes. Segmenting the data by department or role can also be insightful in revealing specific groups or sectors within the organization that might need more targeted training or resources.

Additionally, pay special attention to open-ended feedback. Responses to these questions can provide deeper insights into employees’ attitudes and perceptions, offering valuable context that might be missed in multiple-choice formats.

Taking Action

The insights from these surveys should be used actively to address any identified knowledge gap, misconceptions, or negative thoughts toward your security efforts. Customize your training programs to tackle areas where employees show uncertainty or lack of understanding. It’s also beneficial to communicate the survey results to your team. Sharing both the strengths and areas needing improvement fosters a sense of transparency, increasing employee engagement and accountability.

And finally, treat these surveys as part of a continuous improvement process. They should serve as a regular check-in, helping to create an ongoing conversation about cybersecurity in your organization and continuously refine your approach based on this valuable employee feedback.

Run Focus Groups for Deeper Insights

Focus groups can be a powerful tool in your security awareness arsenal. By bringing employees together to interact and discuss their thoughts and concerns regarding cybersecurity and your security awareness training efforts, you can gain deep insights and foster a more engaged security culture.

Organizing the Focus Groups

Organizing effective focus groups begins with selecting diverse participants from various departments and levels within your organization. This diversity ensures a wide range of perspectives. It’s also crucial to create a safe and open environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions. Choose a neutral facilitator, possibly someone from outside the immediate team, to encourage unbiased discussions. The focus group session should be structured yet flexible, with a set of guiding questions to steer the conversation but allowing enough room for participants to raise their own points and concerns.

Analyzing Focus Group Feedback

The feedback from these focus groups is a goldmine of qualitative data. When analyzing this feedback, look for common themes and recurring concerns or suggestions. This analysis can reveal not just what employees know about cybersecurity but how they feel about the training they receive, the policies in place, and the overall security culture. It’s important to consider both the content of the feedback and the emotions or attitudes expressed, as these can provide insight into the level of engagement and buy-in from your team.

Taking Action

The insights gathered from focus groups should directly inform your security awareness strategy. If certain areas of confusion or concern are repeatedly mentioned, these should be addressed in future training sessions. Use the feedback to refine your communication methods, training content, and even policy formulation. Consider implementing some of the suggestions made during the focus groups, as this can increase a sense of ownership and participation among employees. And finally, communicate back to your employees about how their input from the focus groups has been used. This type of transparency can show that their opinions are valued and can encourage further engagement in your organization's security culture. 

Perform Individual Interviews for a Nuanced Understanding of Employee Attitudes

While focus groups offer a broad perspective, individual interviews can provide a more nuanced understanding of employee attitudes toward cybersecurity and your organization’s security efforts. These one-on-one conversations can uncover detailed insights that might not emerge in a group setting.

Organizing the Interview

The key to successful individual interviews lies in careful planning and execution. Start by selecting a diverse range of participants across different departments and seniority levels to ensure a well-rounded view of the security culture. It’s important to communicate the purpose of these interviews clearly to the participants, emphasizing confidentiality and the non-evaluative nature of the discussion. This approach helps in building trust and encourages openness. The interviews should be structured around a set of core questions but allow for flexibility for follow-up questions or exploring areas that the participant feels strongly about. 

Analyzing Interview Feedback

Feedback from individual interviews tends to be rich and varied, providing a deeper understanding of each employee’s experience and perspective. When analyzing this feedback, pay attention to the nuances in responses, including any hesitations or emphasis. Look for patterns or inconsistencies in understanding and attitude towards cybersecurity practices. It’s also valuable to compare these findings with the results from focus groups and surveys to get a comprehensive picture of the security culture in your organization.

Taking Action

Use the insights from these interviews to tailor your cybersecurity approach to better suit your team’s needs. If certain areas of concern or misunderstanding are identified, address them in your training programs or communications. You might also discover unique ideas or suggestions from individuals that could be beneficial when implemented organization-wide. Following up with interviewees, when possible, about the actions taken in response to their feedback not only shows that you value their input but also reinforces their role in the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.

Track the Number of Reported Simulations to Measure Employee Confidence

An effective way to measure your security-aware culture is by analyzing the results of reported simulations, such as phishing tests. These simulations are not just training tools but also indicators of how comfortable and prepared your employees are in identifying and reporting potential cyber threats.

Analyzing Results

When reviewing the results of these simulations, it's crucial to look beyond the basic metrics of who fell for the phishing test and who didn't. Pay attention to the number of employees who proactively reported the simulation. This figure is a strong indicator of a security-aware culture. It reflects not just awareness but also the willingness and confidence of employees to take action. Additionally, analyze the time taken to report these incidents and the quality of the reports. Are they providing enough information? Is there a trend in how different departments or levels within the organization respond? These insights can reveal much about the effectiveness of your current training and the overall security posture of your workforce.

Taking Action

Based on the analysis of the simulation results, tailor your training programs to target identified weaknesses. For instance, if a significant number of employees are failing to recognize or report phishing emails, this indicates a need for more focused training on recognizing such threats. Also, consider recognizing and rewarding the correct reporting of these simulations. This positive reinforcement can encourage more proactive security behaviors. Moreover, if certain departments show lower reporting rates, additional targeted training or communication might be needed to address this gap. Finally, use these results to continuously refine your simulation exercises, making them more challenging or diverse, to keep pace with the evolving nature of cyber threats.

The number of reported simulations serves as a practical metric for gauging the responsiveness and alertness of your team to cybersecurity threats. By analyzing and acting on these results, you can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your security awareness program, fostering a more robust and proactive security culture.

Track the Number of Security Champions and Ambassadors to Measure the Maturity of your Security-aware Culture

Establishing a network of security champions within your organization can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your cybersecurity efforts. These champions act as ambassadors for good security practices, promoting awareness and leading by example. The number and engagement level of these champions can be a telling indicator of the maturity of your security-aware culture.

Organizing a Champions Program

Initiating a security champions program involves identifying and empowering enthusiastic and security-conscious employees across different departments. These individuals should be passionate about cybersecurity and willing to take an extra step in promoting security awareness within their teams. The selection process can be based on self-nomination, recommendations from managers, or identifying those who consistently demonstrate strong security behaviors. Once selected, provide these champions with additional training and resources so they can effectively communicate security best practices and provide guidance to their colleagues.

Analyzing Results

Measuring the success of a security champions program isn't just about counting the number of champions. It's also essential to assess their impact. Look at the spread and representation across various departments – is there a good mix, or are some areas underrepresented? Analyze their activities and initiatives: What kind of engagement are they generating? Are they effectively raising awareness and driving change in their respective departments? Feedback from employees about the champions’ effectiveness and visibility can also provide valuable insights into the program's impact.

Taking Action

Based on the analysis, you might find areas where the presence of security champions needs to be bolstered or their activities enhanced. If certain departments lack engagement, consider additional recruitment or support for champions in those areas. Regularly update and train your champions so they remain well-informed about the latest threats and best practices. Encouraging and recognizing their efforts is also crucial – it can be through formal recognition programs or by highlighting their contributions in company communications. This recognition not only motivates the champions but also showcases their role, encouraging others to follow their lead.

The number and effectiveness of security champions in your organization can significantly reflect the health of your security-aware culture. Through their enthusiasm and efforts, these champions can amplify your security message, making it more relatable and actionable for everyone.


In conclusion, cultivating a security-aware culture is an indispensable component of modern organizational cybersecurity. This culture not only fortifies your defenses against cyber threats but also fosters an environment where every employee is an active participant in safeguarding the organization's digital assets. And understanding the key measurements for gauging the effectiveness of your security awareness training program—ranging from phishing simulation success rates to the number of security champions—provides valuable insights into how deeply this culture is ingrained within your organization. 

This shift from merely quantitative results to qualitative insights marks a significant evolution in assessing cybersecurity awareness. It's not just about the numbers; it's about understanding the stories behind them—the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of your employees toward cybersecurity. By blending these diverse measurement strategies, you gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of your security culture. Enabling you to tailor your strategies effectively and ensure that your security awareness program is not just a compliance exercise but a fundamental, living aspect of your organizational culture.

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