How CISOs can improve organizational communication

June 17, 2024
Strategic approaches to move from jargon to clarity within the business culture

As the threat and regulatory landscapes continue to evolve rapidly, the CISO role must adapt to keep organizations secure and compliant. A huge part of maintaining security and compliance depends on companies’ abilities to communicate risks and the vital role of the CISO to the rest of the organization, which 63% of CISOs report they’re failing to do, according to research from Devo.

Enhancing communication strategies is essential for ensuring that security and compliance issues are understood, adhered to, and implemented across the business. CISOs must be master communicators and shift from being purely technical savants to enterprise risk advisors.

Keep it Simple

One of the most common mistakes CISOs make is not speaking the language of the business, which can make it challenging to articulate risks effectively. CISOs are used to using tech-centric language with their immediate teams, but that language can be confusing for other members of the organization. Translating technical jargon into simple terms is crucial for clearly communicating risk levels, best practices, and the prevalence of threats to the rest of the business.

Simplifying language can also help ensure employees take notice of and respond to CISOs' notices and requests seriously. When risk levels are described in overly technical language, they can feel overstated, leading many employees to ignore notices that require action. Accessible language is especially important when CISOs communicate risk to other business leaders to get buy-in on security initiatives and take action.

Know Your Audience — Or Get Held Back

A company’s reporting structure can also enormously impact how CISOs approach communication. Devo’s research found that 53% of CISOs report to a CIO or other IT leader, while 44% report to a CEO. Each leader has a different focus: CIOs need to keep the technical aspects of the business running, while CEOs are focused on broader business strategy. CISOs need to consider their reporting structure when communicating up, making sure to outline how security policies impact the area of the business their direct manager is focused on.

In addition to having a firm grasp on how to communicate to who they report to, CISOs must also carefully consider how different business units interact with security tools and policies. CISOs must understand the critical risks of each department within the organization. Learning about each department's overarching goals can help CISOs fully understand the risks associated with their day-to-day operations, communicate those risks to team members, and then work collaboratively to implement controls.

For example, a CISO should collaborate with the marketing department to understand what is in their martech stack, the types of data they’re storing, and whether the tools they use have the right controls in place to protect that data. Having security involved in reviewing the martech stack might seem cumbersome to marketing leaders initially, but if a CISO can articulate the benefits that security can have to the brand, they’ll have a better chance of having productive conversations with the marketing team. CISOs can enable the marketing team to do their jobs while keeping the organization secure. Without a mutual understanding of each other’s goals, there’s less of a chance that the leaders of that department will be willing to cooperate.

When good communication is prioritized, collaborative environments are fostered, and CISOs can dispel the perception that security hinders business agility and innovation.

Breaking Down Silos

Without effective communication, CISOs often find themselves working in a silo and feeling disjointed from or even at odds with the larger organization and its goals. CISOs can also feel like they’re forcing teams into using tools they don’t fully understand or that they must police employees to enforce security protocols.

Developing effective communication strategies is crucial for CISOs aiming to safeguard their organizations in a rapidly evolving threat landscape. CISOs can transform communication from an obstacle into a powerful tool for promoting security and compliance by breaking down technical barriers, understanding departmental risks, and fostering collaborative environments.

About the Author

Kayla Williams

Kayla Williams is the Chief Information Security Officer at Devo. Kayla joined Devo as VP of GRC in 2021 and was appointed Chief Information Security Officer in January 2022. With over 15 years of experience in cybersecurity, Kayla is an accomplished leader dedicated to safeguarding organizations against evolving cyber threats. As CISO, she oversees the development and implementation of robust cybersecurity strategies to protect the company’s sensitive information and digital assets.

Kayla is an ICIT Fellow and a member of the Team8 CISO Village. Before joining Devo, she held key leadership roles in prominent global cybersecurity and financial firms, where she gained extensive experience in risk management, incident response, regulatory compliance, and security governance.