by Joseph McMahon and Christine Wakefield

Part of minimizing risk at the company-wide level involves influencing employees' choices and behavior. Every day, employees make a myriad of choices that are mostly inconsequential. However, a few of these choices can have a big impact - such as choosing not to report suspicious behavior, or leaving a work bag unattended on a table for a moment.

At its heart, risk is a pretty simple concept that people manage all the time in their everyday lives. Where risk occurs in the workplace or during working time, management needs to ensure they have taken measures to equip employees with knowledge that will make them confident to make the right choices in complex and risky situations. This also includes the skills needed to identify threats, and a toolbox of actions to mitigate threats when they happen. 

The three principles of risk management behavior 

Empowering employees to practice individual risk management behavior involves three components: 

  1. Threat Awareness – knowing the possible threats that can arise and being aware of the trigger signs leading to the threat, so you are alert at the earliest opportunity
  1. Self-Awareness - understanding who you are, your situation, your strengths and weaknesses, and how possible threats could impact you 

  2. Risk Mitigation - knowing what actions to take or what tools to use when encountering a threat, to try to reduce or ring-fence it and its potential impact. This also involves being prepared and knowing what to do if the risk snowballs into a serious problem.

Putting these principles into context 

This model applies to obvious risky situations that pop up when travelling for business, but can also happen at work, where threats might not be quite so obvious.

Imagine you're travelling and you walk into a beautiful town square jam-packed with tourists. You are aware that there is a threat of pickpocketing (threat awareness), and you realize that you have 100 Euros in your handbag (self-awareness). You decide to zip up your handbag and hold it firmly against your chest so that no-one can get to it easily (risk mitigation).

Now a scenario where these three elements are more subtle.

Imagine you are responsible for negotiating sponsorship for a major sports tournament. You are invited for a one-on-one lunch with the principal sponsor, with whom you have a good personal relationship (self-awareness). At the end of the lunch you are given a branded gift by the sponsor, and casually told that the sponsor might be able to get you more of such gifts for your family next year. Accepting the gift could breach your company gift policies, and the mention of future gifts could be perceived as a bribe (threat awareness). You accept the gift, but tell the sponsor that you have to report it, and cannot accept any future gifts in case they jeopardize the commercial arrangement between your organizations (risk mitigation).

How to embed risk management behavior

Ideally, these three principles will become second-nature to your employees, so that they have the confidence to act appropriately when encountering risky situations. Whether the risk is obvious or more subtle and uncertain, the aim is for this risk management behavior to happen automatically.

The faster employees can detect the threat and be alert to their situation, the faster they can implement mitigating measures to minimize risks.

This behavior rarely comes naturally - it takes both experience and training to develop the proactive and reactive skills. In the workplace, employers have a duty of care to take positive steps to ensure employees are aware and prepared for threats that may arise whilst they are working, wherever that may be.

A practical approach is to establish realistic, immersive training programs that give employees the right framework and mindset to adapt quickly to complex or risky situations.

The right training will use real-world scenarios and engage employees emotionally to give them the sense they've "been there before". This will give them the confidence to tackle real-world encounters, knowing what to look out for and how to respond.

At SAME Solutions we are passionate about designing effective training programs that influence behavior. We’d love to hear how you’ve managed risks at your organization!