We all know the story of Henny Penny, also known as Chicken Little. The poor bird was convinced the sky was falling and the world was coming to an end. Or how about the Greek myth of Cassandra? According to legend Apollo was so captivated by her beauty he bestowed upon her the ability to see the future. When she refused his love, he turned the gift into a curse by making it so nobody would ever believe her. For the remainder of her life she was able to see the future but was helpless to warn anybody of impending dangers.
We’ve all been in professional settings where we believed our organization was headed for trouble. Sometimes in those situations it’s hard to air your concerns without being seen as Henny Penny or feeling like Cassandra. So what’s a responsible, team player supposed to do?
By definition, any uncertain, future event that may impact the organization is a risk. Talking about these uncertainties as risks is often the best way to express concern without being seen as a nay-sayer or an alarmist. After all, once you’ve identified a risk, it’s your responsibility to make sure those in charge have considered it. If you were riding in a car and saw the driver about to pull out into oncoming traffic, wouldn’t you warn them?
Five Things You Can Do To Discuss Risks
1. Make it clear you’ve got good intentions
Unless you have a hidden agenda, the purpose of bringing the risk forward is to ensure the organization is aware of it and has considered how to handle it. If that’s true, you should start the conversation by making it clear you have some concerns and you’re raising them with the best interests of the organization in mind. Most managers want to hear about potential problems early enough to avoid them. If you start out saying something like “I’m really committed to the success of this project and I have some thoughts on how we could avoid a big potential problem, can I share them with you?” you’ll have your manager’s attention and appreciation.
2. Objectively explain the risk
One reason people get tagged as pessimists is their failure to explain concerns in an objective manner. Instead they say things like “this project will never be successful” or “that will never work.” It’s hard to appreciate your desire to deliver results if all you talk about is the inability to do so. On the other hand, if you use objective language and make it clear the risk is uncertain, people will be more willing to listen. Instead of saying “Our vendor has never delivered its components on time so we’re doomed to fail”, try something like “The last two times I worked with that vendor they were late in delivering. I don’t know that they’ll be late again but I think we need to consider that as a possibility in our plans.” Suddenly you’re not bashing the vendor you’re simply stating facts about past performance and acknowledging if nothing has changed you’re likely to have the same results this time around.
3. Focus on the cause and impact of the risk
A great way to discuss risks is to gather enough information ahead of time to confidently discuss the root cause. Doing so allows you to come up with effective means of mitigating or avoiding the risk. You should also discuss the possible impacts of the risk but try not to dwell on the worst-case scenario. Say something like, “Sometimes I think our vendor delivers late because we don’t get our orders in until the last minute.
4. Discuss ways to minimize the potential of the risk occurring, or the impact if it does occur
If you can, you should present a few recommendations for what to do if the risk is realized or better yet, how to minimize the chance it will occur in the first place. To continue with our vendor risk, you could say something like “If we can shuffle the schedule around a little bit and get the order in a week earlier, we can probably improve the odds they’ll deliver our components on time.”
5. Support the decision on how to handle the risk
Finally, realize your advice on what to do about the risk may not be adopted. The best thing you can do is wholeheartedly support whatever decision is made. Once “the bosses” decide how to handle risk, it’s counterproductive to go around telling people they made the wrong decision or even worse to walk around telling people “I told you so” if the risk is realized. If you were right and they were wrong, there’s a pretty strong possibility they will remember it without you reminding them. Next time your suggestions may carry a little more weight.
Pointing out potential problems can be intimidating but it’s a skill worth learning. When you effectively discuss risks it will reduce the number of problems your organization encounters and will set you apart as somebody who makes a difference.
The Impact Makers Difference
Unlike most corporations, Impact Makers has no share holders. People sometimes ask why the company was set up this way. The answer is simple. Without any shareholders, the company is free to focus on our mission of distributing profits back to the community!