Cybersecurity Culture

Cultivating Positive Cybersecurity Behavior and Culture With SMART Goal Setting

It’s hard to achieve anything in business or life without goals. Setting clear and realistic objectives is an important step for organizations looking to foster positive changes regarding cybersecurity behavior and culture.

For decades, prominent organizations have used SMART – an acronym representing a guiding framework for goal-setting. Let’s learn what SMART stands for and how you can utilize this framework to advance your cybersecurity posture and culture.

What is SMART, and what does it mean for cybersecurity?

SMART is a goal-setting acronym which stands for:

Specific: Goals should be clear and specific. For example, “Implement multi-factor authentication for all employee accounts.”

Measurable: A goal needs to be quantifiable so you can gauge the progress toward it over a given period. If your goal is to train employees on detecting phishing attempts, you could track its success by analyzing the rate of reported phishing emails.

Achievable: While goals should be optimistic and steer the organization toward improvement, they should also be attainable. There’s no point in setting overly ambitious goals you’re unlikely to reach. Instead, set realistic goals you can build on for continuous improvement.

Relevant: Goals should be aligned with broader business objectives. If remote work is common in your organization, a relevant goal might be to enhance security practices among remote employees.

Time-bound: Setting and forgetting goals is as common in business as it is in everyday life. To maximize your chances of success, set goals with a realistic timeframe. For example, “Implement multi-factor authentication for all employee accounts by the end of Q2.”

By following these principles, you will streamline the success of your cybersecurity behavior and culture objectives. Now, let’s see how you can articulate relevant goals to get started. 

Defining clear, actionable cybersecurity behavior and culture goals

Influencing employee behavior, let alone changing the organization’s security culture, is not an overnight task. Defining clear and actionable goals is a great first step, which will serve as a roadmap toward a more secure and aware working environment.

But before you set any goals, it’s important to assess the current state of affairs regarding cybersecurity. This involves understanding your employees’ existing knowledge base, behaviors, and attitudes toward cybersecurity. There are several ways to do so, including surveys, interviews, and audits.

Once you know the state your organization is in, use the SMART framework to create actionable goals to guide you toward improvement. Here are some tips in line with the SMART framework:


Avoid vagueness. Remember, being specific will help direct change and help employees focus. Instead of “improve cybersecurity awareness,” a more specific goal would be to “reduce phishing attack susceptibility by 50%.” 


When setting goals, consider constraints like time, budget, and personnel. These factors will impact how attainable your goals are.


Review these goals regularly and adapt them as needed. Cybersecurity is rapidly evolving, and what may be relevant now could change in a few months. 

Potential challenges that could arise

As with anything in business, setting goals to influence change in security behavior can bring some challenges. The first one might come from the employees themselves, who could show resistance to change in their new routines and additional responsibilities. You must clearly articulate the reason behind these changes, including the benefits that will come from them.

Skill gaps can be another challenge. If you’re starting from scratch, it may take some time before security awareness programs start impacting employee behavior. That’s why measuring progress toward the end goal is so important.

In global enterprises, diverse cultural perceptions related to security and privacy can influence the adoption and success of cybersecurity initiatives. Involving representatives from various regions in the goal-setting phase promotes inclusiveness and ensures a more universally applicable approach.

Main takeaways


SMART is a framework that focuses on goals that are Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.


The SMART framework can help organizations define actionable and relevant goals to help them cultivate improved cybersecurity behavior and culture.


When employees understand the specific goals, know how their actions contribute to these objectives, and see measurable progress, they are more likely to take personal responsibility for cybersecurity. 

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