Inconvenient Truths

Recently I had one of those tickly moments in a risk workshop I was facilitating. I heard the words: “We can’t put that up!”

The risk was being assessed inconveniently high. As I have written and spoken about many times before, one of our jobs as risk professionals is to uncover the elephant in the room, if there is one.

Rating risk in the absence of data is highly subjective, and of course true quantification would be preferred. Even so, one can ask questions that reveal some basic data, like: “How many times has it happened in the past?”. Memories are searched, incidents remembered, and the inconvenient truth appears.

Then the rationalisation starts. OK, so the likelihood is higher than we thought but the consequences aren’t as bad as we first thought. Truthfully, this often proves the case. People have overreacted to the impact because it seems like a big deal. Again a few questions provide data, like the obvious one: “What happened as a result of those incidents?” or: “Did anyone lose their job over it?” “Did the media pick it up?” “How long did the media interest last?”.

If the truth is still inconvenient, it’s time to look at the risk criteria. Is the definition of Major really that bad?

If you have done all of the above, the inconvenient truth needs to stand. BUT how you communicate the risk is critical. A few tips:

  • Always start with the positives, if any.
  • Provide answers in the form of what could be done to manage the situation.
  • Point out that this may mean we need to discuss our appetite for risk in this domain, rather than expending resources on what could be done.

Stay safe.