Problems Lying in Wait: Why You Need to Take Risk Management Seriously

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Risk management - LexipolGordon Graham here, and again, thanks for taking the time to read this brief piece. In my last article I introduced you to the breadth and depth of “real risk management” and why this discipline is much more than the “safety stuff.”

In this article, I want to further explain why too many government organizations—including the high-risk occupations involved in public safety in your communities—don’t take risk management seriously.

When I say this in a live program, I often get some pushback: “What do you mean we don’t take it seriously?” My response to this is pretty simple: Let’s take a look at your city/county/state organizational chart. Where will I find risk management on your org chart?

If risk management has its own box, I will be very surprised. And if it is near the top of the org chart, you can stop reading this piece right now because clearly your entity “gets it.” But too often I see risk management sharing a box with maintenance or human resources, someplace in the middle or lower levels of the organizational hierarchy.

Here is a second test for you. Pick up your government phone directory and look for risk management. Again, if there is a dedicated risk manager in your entity, I will be surprised. And I guarantee you that you will have many more lawyers in your phone book than risk managers.

Why am I boring you with this? Lawyers focus on fixing problems after they occur. Real risk managers focus on addressing problems before they occur. It is an entirely different way of thinking—a different bias, if you want to look at it that way. It is the constant battle of spending time and money up front to prevent problems from occurring. The alternative is spending much more time and resources after problems occur.

On my recommended reading list is a great book by two Harvard guys (Bazerman and Watkins), Predictable Surprises. The authors capture the essence of the problem with some thoughts on the shared traits of predictable surprises and why so many people in so many organizations ignore problems lying in wait.

Another great work along similar lines is Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness. She lays out in great detail why so many people in so many organizations are aware of problems, yet they do not act, and again and again ignore problems lying in wait.

We can do so much to thwart bad outcomes if we are committed to real risk management. And maybe this is just me, but I want this transition to real risk management to occur prior to some disastrous event.

Here is a definition that I will be referencing throughout this series of articles. Webster takes a stab at defining risk as “the possibility of meeting danger or suffering a harm or loss, or exposure to harm or loss.” As a follow then:

 

Risk management is any activity that involves the evaluation of or comparison of risks and the development, selection and implementation of control measures that change outcomes.

 

Or more simply stated, risk management is the process of looking into the future (short or long term), asking what can go wrong and then doing something to prevent it from going wrong. Remember RPM—Recognition, Prioritization, Mobilization.

Last time, I gave you a brief overview of the 10 Families of Risk. In our next piece, I will tackle Family One, External Risks. Until then, please take a look at what we are trying to do at Lexipol to address the risks you face in public safety operations. Thanks for reading!

 

TIMELY TAKEAWAY Do you have a checklist for your personnel to use prior to operating a department vehicle? Does the vehicle have all the equipment that is necessary to complete the shift? Are the fluid levels correct? Is the tire pressure correct? And assuming you do have such a checklist in place, is it being taken seriously by those operating your vehicles?

 

Gordon Graham is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.