Risk Management

Five qualities a Risk Manager and Runner share

No one cares about either.

The only people interested in running are runners. The only people interested in risk management are risk managers.

To be a good runner and risk manager I realised that I couldn’t look to others for encouragement or acknowledgement.

I am close, but not close enough to breaking a 3 hour marathon. That’s a big deal for me. I’ve put in years of training to get to this point. But no one outside my running buddies knows this means or would care.

As a risk manager I run a similar race (pun intended). I turn up, put in the effort, deal with the struggles and patiently yet persistently push on. I’m always looking for small signs of achievement but rarely do they come in the form of a pat on the back. It’s a long and lonely road for the risk manager. There’s no high fives or celebrations. It’s self management and self satisfaction.  

To succeed at running and risk management I have an inner belief that I am making a difference. I soak up the brief victories but in most part it’s about making daily improvements that not even I usually notice.

2             It is easy, at first.

Running is easy, left foot then right foot. It gets harder when I add speed, cadence, loss of breath, blisters, persistence, fatigue, distance and commitment.

Risk management is also easy at first. I followed the step-by-step international standard. I wrote down the things that could go wrong and then considered how to stop them from happening. I wrote the framework, a policy, a set of procedures, matrices and developed a register. It took me a week of not talking to anyone to prepare and pass the audit. At least with running I see and feel improvements from the work I put in. The reality with most documentation is that no one reads it or it adds very little value until it’s actually being applied. The challenge started when I started work-shopping with untrained and uninterested staff, listening to people’s problems, accepting my documents weren’t perfect, understanding the intent and facilitating meetings without biasing outcomes.

It was when I started thinking about situations differently, questioning approaches, stepping out of the norms and challenging what was once thought to be fact, that I started noticing real improvements in both risk and my running.

There is nothing more motivating as a runner than to overtake competitors in the final stages of a marathon. When my risk management finally became fluid and multidimensional I started drawing great satisfaction in converting one manager at a time to become my risk ally.

 3             There is a LOT of hype.

All I needed was a pair of shoes I told myself. But which shoes and for which type of run, hills or road? Will these make me faster? What are flats anyway? What about arch support and pronation? Will these prevent injury? There are so many, supplements, socks with toes, compression pants, shorts and tops, ones for winter and others for summer. There is so much hype in running.

I confess, I got caught up in it all. I knew I had a problem when I didn’t want to go for a run because I forgot my heart-rate monitor. I’ve since stripped it all back, run in a cheap pair of runners, wear a good watch and run and run to how I feel. I’m heading back to the simplicity that drew me to it in the first place.

Risk management was the same. Software to manage this and that, link it with incidents and compliance, write reports and capture costs. I needed to define what was absolute, inherent, managed, controlled and untreated. Threats, opportunities, matrices, fish-bones, scenarios, BCRs and HACCP. I wanted Monte Carlo’s for every project. I still do. How cool would it be to actually deliver a project on budget?

The reality was that the business wasn’t ready for all the hype and couldn’t take it all at once anyway. Like running I was getting overwhelmed by the opportunities, wanting to change and swap things too quickly.

Risk management and running are processes, not events. Sure I might run a marathon or present at the annual strategic workshop, but to get the pretty graphs and great race times requires incremental daily progress. I turned off the distractions and returned to simplicity.

Risk management is about preventing surprises, it’s about helping others make quicker decisions, and it’s about being able to defend them.

If the hype helps, make it work for you. If not, it’s just another distraction that you should dump.

4             Attitude is everything.

It’s 5:30 am. It’s cold. It’s raining outside. Do I roll over or roll out? It’s ok if I skip days but I know my results suffer if I skip too many.

Risk management didn’t work if I didn’t show up each day and make an effort to improve it. I couldn’t systemise it and put it on auto. Scheduling six monthly reviews and creating checklists was not getting the results needed. Risk had to be dynamic, embraced by the board and senior management, part of change management decisions, incorporated into each phase of a major project and front and centre for field staff. It needed to be tailored and it needed someone to drive it. It needed someone committed and enthusiastic. Be that someone, be the risk champion.

All good runners have a coach, all we risk managers have is a boss.

risk managers are looked upon for expert advice, but we are rarely subject matter experts. We might consider ourselves experts in risk management but not in finance, operations, stakeholder engagement… Like paying a running coach, I had to start listening to the experts, acknowledging my weaknesses, becoming more positive around change, testing assumptions and accepting criticism. I needed to be an expert in listening, being honest, being optimistic, being able to manage conflict and able to build respect and earn trust. For me to make progress in my risk and running I had to change my attitude because attitude always beats technique.

5             There is no end.

So I ran my first marathon, got injured, gave up, became a dad, got lazy, got unhealthy, started running again, ran a few more marathons and now wished I never took a break from running.  

Racing is a great way to see how far I have come but it also shows me how far behind I am from people better than me. It’s an acknowledgement of all the hard work and a climax to a long season of training. All those hours behind the cloak of darkness, shared with so few. The hardest part of a race is making it to the start. Finishing is the small reward that allows me to benchmark myself for my next event.  If I stop running, I know it’s going to be harder next time to get back to where I am.

Risk is typically less satisfying than running because at least I know when I’ve finished a race. Risk management never ends. The more progress I make the more I realise that more needs to be done. Every now and then I receive some feedback that’s not negative, or I turned a board member around, or prevented a bad decision from being made. These small victories are savoured and fuel me to keep travelling down that long, lonely road. I have my ups and downs but practice life-long learning and never give up.

Risk Management is a rewarding career, never give up.

Simon Coutts is a runner, a risk manager and critical thinker who recently realised they all share similar attributes. Please like, share and comment if you can relate to this article.

No Comments

Leave a Reply