Risk e-Views Vol 3 November 2010 – Breaking Down Assumptions

Lack of knowledge means more uncertainty means greater risk. Assumed knowledge can be even more dangerous than lack of knowledge and risk workshops are a safe haven for assumptions because of time limitations and dominant personalities.
Here are four sources of assumptions with some tips on how to handle them during a risk workshop:
1. Seniority – When you have senior people in the room, too many people assume they are right, or will give them the benefit of any doubt in their mind because of their seniority. If a senior person is making an emphatic point, pause the session immediately afterward and ask the room if they agree and survey the room for anyone looking like they are holding back and ask them specifically for their opinion – you will often be surprised with the result.
2. Research Vacuum – Too many people perceive research as too hard, too costly or both. Help the group to identify where there is most uncertainty in their risk assessment and ask them what it might be worth to be more certain about that risk. They then have a maximum budget for research that they can look into using. Sometimes a few “outside the box” suggestions are needed to get them thinking about how they might find some answers within the budget.
3. Historical Inertia – “This is just the way things have been and they have worked alright up until now”. A classic comment which may be entirely valid (see next point), however, it must be challenged even if the environment is changing just a little bit. Start by asking what the results were of the latest “environment scan” for their business unit. This often shakes a few thoughts loose.
4. Change Agent – Quite the opposite of historical inertia; some people assume change is necessary because they perceive themselves as a “change agent”. Sometimes “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” overrides the need to break historical inertia. At worst suggest the need for a risk assessment of any major changes after the workshop. Where time permits, do a mini risk assessment of the suggested changes then and there.