Break the silos for better risk management

Break the silos to better manage risks: Inspiration from Risk-!n

Last week Basel hosted the Risk-!n conference.  For me, this was a fascinating peek into the world of Enterprise Risk Management, the parallels and differences to Operational Risk Management where I spend my time. It gave an opportunity to learn from the things they do so well, especially getting risk on the agenda at board level.  

The event was action packed with most time slots having a choice of 3 speakers. This post is about the things that made the biggest impression on me from the perspective of an EHS professional, those ideas that I will be mulling over for some time.  

The warm up act was an inspirational talk on risk in Endurance Sports by Jeff Grant.  The title ‘Delivering your Best by Hoping for the Worst’ covered him building resilience in athletes for all sorts of dangerous activities.  Preparation for the ice swim involved lying underwater in a bath of ice, breathing through a plastic drink bottle that broke though to the surface.  I’m not sure how long they lasted in that one…but it looked terrifying.  The aim is to get into ‘the flow’ and work at a peak performance where your normal limits are exceeded.  This is achieved through conditioning and visualisation, combined with adversity checklists where you visualise overcoming the worst.  Interesting parallels with EHS where we work so hard to avoid risky situations.  Here the message is ‘push your limits, but prepare well’.  EHS has the reputation of being an obstacle and saying ‘no’ too often, but here is a message of enabling …although I agree it is quite extreme. 

‘Irrational risk taking’ was the subject for Pierre Lauquin.  Science shows that we have innate prejudices, so it is a mistake to believe our judgement is purely rational and pragmatic.  Pierre showed ‘we don’t believe what we see, we see what we believe’, using those fun mind trick pictures which get me every time.  Here are some good examples from the bbc web site:   Pierre says that ‘you can’t estimate risks without facts’.  We all know that is a tough one.  You only have to look at how people score risk assessments differently to see the bias in action.  The question is how to collect those facts? In an uncertain world how do you turn subjectivity to objectivity?  

Pierre discussed that the ‘Halo effect’ is when the first feeling is reconfirmed, and you start to believe it as fact.  However, plausibility is not the same as probability.  This made me think about accident statistics: lack of an accident is not evidence that there will not be accidents in the future.  It is vital that we are base our decisions on the right mix of measurements, those that will give us an indication of future performance as well as our current status. 

At ‘the risk culture café’ we scribbled our ideas on ‘why culture is so important and how it can be influenced’ on the table cloth in big, permanent markers.  The vandalism element appealed and ideas flowed.  In a room of ‘experts’ the ideas were surprisingly consistent: participation, transparency, trust, breaking down silos, visible leadership, listen and learn, don’t blame.

I had high hopes for ‘Influencing the board: how to present Duty of Care initiatives to gain senior-level buy-in.’   A panel from safety, health, security and finance backgrounds shared their thoughts.  I was thinking along the lines of financial justification, but the answer was surprising: Fear!   Fear is particularly effective if it is close.  Terrorism attacks were discussed as one board member had been in Paris close to the yellow vest violence.  Whilst the risk of this type of attack is lower than the chance of a car accident, it is much higher in peoples’ minds.  It was said that ‘the media is never on your side’ as they sensationalise and shift priorities in a way that you can not control.  The ‘make it real’ message works at all levels of the organisation to influence how people think and behave. 

The Public Speaking Jedi (what a cool thing to be), Cecile Bastien Remy, gave her personal story about human resilience and transforming tragedy into success.   The final, inspirational message ‘you choose who you want to be’ is one of courage.  We can make a difference. 

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