How to Develop your Risk Culture & Master Risk Management

Carolyn Taylor

As economic and reputational pressures on companies grow, the ability to master risk is becoming a critical and differentiating skill. In this blog, we’re going to unpack exactly what we mean by risk mastery, why it’s so important, and how your organisation can get better at it.  

The profile of your risk culture is created by how your people are encouraged or discouraged to take risks, to manage risks, and to recover from mistakes. This culture influences your day-to-day decisions, and the risks people do and don’t take. Your organisation’s processes, attitudes, and leadership behaviours create and reinforce this culture every day.  


What is Risk Mastery? 

Risk mastery is the systematic anticipation, evaluation, and mitigation of the risks associated with your business decisions (strategic and operational) in a way that enables you to grab more opportunities safely. It is about consciously and routinely taking ownership for risk so that you are:  

  • Anticipating – proactively thinking about what might go wrong as a result of your actions and decisions. 
  • Evaluating – considering the likelihood of these risks occurring, and scale of their impact.  
  • Mitigating – detailing how you will prevent these risks from occurring, or building your Plan B to quickly recover if things go wrong.   

In our extensive experience, most organisations don’t do risk mastery. As a result, one of two eventualities happens: 

  1. Companies take less risk, which means less reward, as they close themselves off to opportunities. This could be forfeiting new products or services, or improvements in speed to market.  

  2. Companies take too much risk, and then blame outside factors when things don’t work out. They don’t course correct, or learn from their mistakes. For example, quarterly sales quotas aren’t met for reasons that could have been anticipated and/or mitigated (a key customer contact leaving.) 

Risk mastery, then, is about removing extremes. Organisations who are driven by fear of failure are too cautious and risk-averse. Companies who are cavalier are ignorant of risks and run headlong into them. By embracing the concept of risk and automatically considering it as part of their day-to-day activities, organisations can achieve bigger goals, while reducing the chances of self-sabotage.  


Why is Risk Mastery important? 

There are several reasons why risk mastery is becoming increasingly important, including:  


Reputational damage 

The news these days is littered with examples of companies who did not anticipate, evaluate, or mitigate the risks associated with their decisions and activities. Reputations take years to build and seconds to tear down, and in an age of heightened scrutiny and viral media, your market value can be wiped out overnight simply by failing to properly consider risk.  

By adopting a risk mastery mindset throughout your organisation, you can minimise the likelihood of anything going wrong (and impacting your reputation), but if it does, you will know how to adapt quickly to address the situation. You will also learn from the event, so you don’t repeat mistakes in the future.  


Pressure to perform 

 In an unstable global economy, organisations are under more pressure than ever not just to deliver, but to do so consistently. With rising economic uncertainty, investors and shareholders want reliable returns, and this is becoming harder and harder.   

If your organisation consciously considers risk, you can stretch further, entertain greater possibilities, and achieve bigger goals more consistently. Through thoughtful risk taking, you can encourage more innovation, empowerment, and generate amazing results. Where others may not grab an opportunity because they see it as too risky, you will be able to capitalise on it because you have mastered the associated risks.  

The power of risk mastery comes from the fact that by being prepared, your people will have greater confidence in execution, and can respond rapidly to recover (or even improve a situation). They will not blame outside circumstances when things go wrong, but rather look to their own risk anticipation skills, and whether they could have mitigated better against this possibility. They can also take advantage of new opportunities, and there is more predictability to their results.  

In our experience, because most organisations don’t do risk mastery well, they either fail to hit their goals consistently, or they set their sights too low and don’t achieve their full potential. With heightened pressure to perform consistently, risk mastery can be the fuel that drives the superior, reliable performance that rockets your share price and differentiates your business.  


How to develop an effective Risk Mastery culture

Risk mastery is a skill, and like any skill, it requires repeated practice to get better. At Walking the Talk, our Risk Mastery offering focuses on three practical steps, and three associated mindsets. 


Practical Steps

  1. Pulse check. We ask the Leadership Team to do a self-assessment quiz to determine the organisation’s current attitude towards risk. This gives us our starting point.  

  2. Set a goal. We look at what patterns of behaviour in the organisation are helping or hindering risk mastery. The Leadership Team then chooses one or two risk-related behaviours that they want to change about their culture.  

  3. Training. This is customised based on the goals outlined in Step Two. The objective here is to embed risk mastery as a day-to-day discipline within the organisation.  


Mindset Shifts 

Mindsets take time to shift, and that starts with changing beliefs. These are the beliefs we seek to change through our work. 

  1. There are no accidents, only unanticipated risks. This is the idea that when you are constantly looking ahead and thinking about possible risks, there should be no unforeseen surprises.  

  2. Risk anticipation is a skill. As such, accidents and mistakes can be managed, mitigated and their number reduced. This belief puts your people in the driving seat, as the more they practice this skill, the more capable and confident they will become.  

  3. I own risk. Every person in your organisation needs to believe that they are personally accountable for anticipating, evaluating, and mitigating risk. It is not the responsibility of a single team or department; it is a mindset that all your people need if you want to master risk.  

As with any new habit, it needs to become a regular part of your routine to create sustainable change. By focusing on these mindset shifts and practical activities, you can start to build risk mastery into your culture.  


Why is Risk Mastery important in the Future of Work?

As the world gets ever more volatile, external risks to organisations are only going to multiply. Whether it’s inflation, war, climate change, or something else, these types of risks are hitting companies daily, and not enough are doing the appropriate amount of anticipation, evaluation, and mitigation.  

Internally, remote and hybrid working pose challenges to innovation, creativity, and collaboration, the influence of AI is spreading and deepening, and business planning cycles are shortening. People are looking to their organisations for reassurance, support, and inspiration.   

So instead of shying away from risks, or careering blindly into them, companies need to embrace risk mastery and create cultures that reward conscious risk taking. The prizes for doing so are great, and the costs of not doing so are heavy.    

What type of risk culture do you have? Take our Culture Insights Survey to find out.

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