How can we encourage effective risk management?

Smokey3A recent LinkedIn discussion started with the thought provoking question of gets more recognition within most companies – issue resolution or risk management?

Are firefighters or those who prevent fires celebrated more?

Academically, no one argues about the criticality of risk management, and yet, if issue management is where all the focus and accolades are, why would people want to spend anything more than a modicum of effort in managing risks?

Some of it has to do with the visibility of one versus the other.

Word of an issue spreads like wildfire, and many pairs of eyes begin to closely monitor the situation. Then when unnatural acts save the day, there are lots of people to recognize and reward the heroes. I can’t count the number of times I have witnessed “on-the-spot” awards being awarded to individuals or teams when a critical issue has been successfully resolved.

Risk management is like an effective security agency – you usually only hear about them when something bad has happened, but you rarely hear of the multiple tragedies which they deterred. The probability and timing of risk realization is always uncertain, hence the ease of recognizing good risk management behaviors in the moment is much harder than with issues which have readily visible resolution times.

So how do we shift focus from issue management to risk management?

It’s common to review the good work done by the team in a lessons identification session during project closure. Sometimes those discussions might even acknowledge the efforts which prevented critical risks from being realized. But this is looking in a rear-view mirror. At best, these lessons may help future teams facing similar challenges.

Wouldn’t it be better to capture expected timeframes for the realization of critical risks in risk registers so that once those dates have passed without those risks being realized the team can celebrate?

When issues occur, as action plans are being executed to resolve the situation, parallel effort should be spent to understand how the issues could have been prevented. And then, once the issues are resolved, recognition should still be made of any heroics, but this recognition should be tempered with a reinforcement of the need to not get into trouble in the first place.  Lessons should also be defined and communicated on how such an issue could be prevented in the future. Such analysis may also have the side effect of identifying if issues are being purposely created – a hero culture can generate unintended consequences.

If we start recognizing effort spent on successful prevention to the same extent that we recognize heroics then where attention goes, energy flows.


Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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