Risk Management as Change Agent: Adopting a Culture of Risk

By Leslie White on August 2, 2011

During the CommPartners’ Learning Socially: Associations at the Crossroads Seminar, Susan Robertson, CAE executive vice president of ASAE and president of ASAE Foundation, mentioned a speech by Barry C. Melancon, CPA, chief executive officer, American Institutes of CPAs about risk. Association TRENDS selected Mr. Melancon, as its 2011 Association Executive of the Year. According to Association TRENDS Melancon said that “association executives ‘have an obligation to drive our individual associations forward,’ noting that this cannot happen without taking risks, finding an appropriate balance, and communicating effectively.” You can view his speech here (risk discussion begins around 16:00).

My heart warms when an association executive talks about risk especially one that practices good risk management. Melancon shared his view that an association’s board and key volunteers need to be willing to take risks. The association leaders have to recognize that not every effort will be successful or get the results expected. When an association tries something new and gets unexpected results it is not “failure” but rather an opportunity to learn and move forward.

Innovation and Risk
I’ve written about Innovation and Risk before that an association has to take risks to be creative but be smart about the risks it takes. Risk involves uncertainty; we don’t know the outcomes of our efforts. A lot of us are uncomfortable with uncertainty we still hold the illusion of control. We don’t know if that new service, program, membership model will have the results we want (or expect)? As Jamie Notter tweeted during the seminar

Jamie was talking about social media but the statement holds true for other activities. Some associations are still offering the same arguments against social media – what if someone says something bad about? An employee or member misbehaves? In my first guest post for SocialFish, The Hidden Risks of Social Media: It’s Not What You Think, I declared the greatest social media risk is not being an active participant. If you use social media you are aware negative comments and can respond accordingly. Therefore,
The greatest threat to an association’s survival is to not take any risks; not trying something new or moving forward.

Or another way to say it is failure to take risks leads to failure. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If you don’t change what you are doing the results won’t change either. The downward spiral will continue until your association becomes completely obsolete and out of business.

Risk Management as Change Agent
So how do we get out of this insanity loop? How do we start taking some risks? A risk averse association isn’t going to change simply by a board or CEO edict; this requires a cultural change. Change doesn’t come quickly to many people or associations but the practice of risk management provides techniques to facilitate change and address people’s fears.

Risk management is about learning to deal with uncertainty; not knowing how people will receive a new initiative or when something bad may happen such as an auto accident, office fire, employee injury, or anything else that goes wrong. You first need to know how your management team and board feel about risk – their appetite for risk, tolerance for uncertainty. If risk averse, you have a bigger challenge to get them comfortable with risk and uncertainty.

Photo: Renaissancechambara

Another way risk management is a change agent is by putting risks into perspective. Our first reaction to an idea is its too risky but after evaluating the potential outcomes we realize it is not so bad. The risk may be acceptable or can be mitigated effectively. A part of implementation is to set up the metrics to measure the impact of the change. Through the metrics you find if the results are what you expected or if you need to change some aspect of the project.

Remember everything has its risks but each decision also has the possibility of reward. The new membership model, chapter re-organization, or volunteer management tools may be successful, even exceed expectations. But you won’t know until you do something. Push through the fear and inertia by managing risks. You’ll be amazed at the results.

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