Identifying, Assessing and Managing Risks From an ERM Perspective

In his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines “Black Swans” as random and rare events that underlie our lives and business, are nearly impossible to predict and have a huge impact when they materialize.

According to Taleb, “Black Swans being unpredictable, we need to adjust to their existence, rather than naively try to predict them.”

In the past several years, many large-scale events (similar in nature to Black Swans) have manifested and changed the course of many businesses.

Examples of these events include increased food and product safety issues, energy supply volatility, global financial instability, geopolitical instability, and natural disasters.

These events have had significant impact not only on the organizations located in the borders where they occurred, but also on various parties across geographical borders, industries and sectors.

Because of this unprecedented change in the business environment and risk landscape, organizations need to take a new look at their risk management processes and the allocation of resources to ensure that emerging risks are effectively identified, assessed, managed and monitored at all levels of the organization.

Although many organizations have put in place risk management processes to identify, assess and manage enterprise risks, their programs are repeatedly failing to identify emerging risks relevant to the organization; assess their impact and interconnectedness with other risks and mitigate them.

This failure has implications for the organization’s strategy and objectives. It is therefore important that the organization’s board and senior management continuously scan the business environment for changes that could impact strategy execution and the achievement of business objectives.

A systematic approach to risk identification is achieved by first considering what risks the organization is facing on the macro and micro levels.

Macro-risk identification involves the identification of major risks that may have significant impact, financial and otherwise, on the organization by using techniques such as industry analysis, competitor analysis, country analysis and market/environmental analysis.

Micro-risk identification involves identifying sub-risks within the major risk classes that can usually be prevented by introducing effective risk control measures.

Risk inspections, HAZOP studies, failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA), fault tree analysis (FTA), hazard indices, safety audits, legislation and codes of practice, research and risk sourcing can all be used to identify risks and their sources at a micro level.

In a fast-paced and changing business environment which is always presenting opportunities and threats, the organization needs to build a dynamic ERM model, be proactive and resilient.

Lessons are still being learnt from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) which started first in the US and spread overnight to other developed and developing economies.

What began as a crisis only within the banking sector immediately spread over to other non-banking industries, for example, the automotive industry.

This GFC revealed the shortcomings in the risk programs of many financial and non-financial institutions. Organizations that were once thought of as “too big to fail” have disappeared while others have come out stronger.

Since then, supported by a stronger risk management culture, organizations across industries, sectors and national borders have attempted to strengthen their risk management programs by using techniques such as risk assessment, scenario analysis, event simulations and stress testing as a basis for determining response strategies that are aligned with the organization’s strategies, objectives, risk appetite and tolerance.

Today, risks are very much interconnected and go beyond enterprises, industries and national borders. Businesses no longer conduct business locally.

Globalization has made it easier for organizations to seek opportunities across national borders either through direct market entry or through joint ventures and collaboration with foreign partners.

Although benefits can be accrued from collaboration, because of these interactions, the organization is also exposed to a wide range of risks which in turn has increased the complexities in managing risks.

Effectively applying ERM principles can help the business address risks that may appear unknown but have a huge impact when they materialize.

By implementing ERM and building a strong risk management culture throughout the organization, business leaders are able to:

  • Identify emerging risks relevant to the organization’s strategy and objectives by carefully scanning and analyzing all the relevant risk factors.
  • Assess the significance of different risks to the business and stakeholders, their interconnectedness with other risks and implication to the business.
  • Determine risk response strategies as well as consider collaboration with external parties to mitigate the risks and possibly even capture opportunities.
  • Regularly monitor emerging risks through the effective use of qualitative and quantitative indicators.

In a global economy where opportunities are hunted across national borders and industries, risks spread equally very much. It is therefore important for boards and senior managers to ensure that the organization’s risk tolerances are not exceeded.

Proactively monitoring risks and analyzing trends and the underlying relationships between risks helps organizations avoid significant losses and seize opportunities.

By applying ERM to emerging risks, the board and management are able to reveal to investors and other stakeholders the organization’s agility to detect and respond to large-scale risks.

Risks affecting the organization’s business performance can be known, unknown and unknowable. Where the risks are known, their causes, probability of occurrence and likely impacts are well defined.

These risks can therefore be measured and managed because they have manifested previously. Unknown risks are well defined but impossible to assign probabilities as to the occurrence of specific events e.g. acts of terrorism.

Unknowable risks have not yet manifested and understanding of these is more of a speculative event. Understanding this distinction of risks is important. It helps with the allocation and reallocation of resources to help foresee risks that are currently being ignored.

Identifying, assessing and managing risks relevant to the organization should form part of its strategic planning and performance management processes.

This also requires the organization to strengthen its ERM capabilities and skills to ensure adequate risk oversight and management.

In addition to identifying risks relative to its key objectives, the organization also needs to embrace and manage risks throughout the value chain.

Each relationship within the value chain not only does it imply new opportunities, but also risks. If one of the relationships fails, this results in consequences for all the relationship partners.

Thus, it is important to understand the risks faced by each partner when identifying and evaluating risks. Through historical data and forward-looking analysis, the organization will be able to go beyond known risks and expose what may seem to be unknown risks.

In today’s complex and rapidly changing environment where an organization can thrive or disappear overnight, effectively applying ERM principles and building a strong risk culture to identify, assess and manage enterprise risks is important for executing strategy, driving business performance and meeting various stakeholder expectations.

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2 Replies to “Identifying, Assessing and Managing Risks From an ERM Perspective”

  1. I humbly request that every time when you release a risk management article on any topic, please share. I am very impressed with the content and quality of your articles, very informative and straight to the point.

    1. Hi Moahloli, thanks for your comment. I will in future share with you new articles on risk management related topics.

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Leading in Uncertain Times

One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is making the right decisions that will ensure their organizations succeed, survive, and remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment.

A recent post, The best way to lead in uncertain times may be to throw out the playbook, by Strategy+Business has several good points.

The article is about the COVID-19 pandemic, how global companies navigated through the crisis, and how best to prepare for future disruptions. Here are some key points and my comments.

  • Rather than follow a rigid blueprint, executives must help organizations focus on sensing and responding to unpredictable market conditions.
    • Comment: Senior leaders play a vital role in providing clarity about the organization’s strategic direction, creating alignment on key priorities to ensure the achievement of enterprise objectives, and ensuring the business model is continuously evolving to create and capture value in the face of uncertainty. They must not rest on their laurels and stick to the beliefs and paradigms that got them to where they are today and hope they will carry them through tomorrow. Regulatory changes, new products, competition, markets, technologies, and shifts in customer behavior are upending many outdated assumptions about business success. Thus, the businesses you have today are different from the ones you will need in the future hence the importance of continuously sensing changes in the global economy. Employees and teams often feed off the energy of their leaders and tend to focus their attention where the leader focuses attention. If the leader is comfortable with current business practices and rarely embraces the future or challenges the status quo, then the team is highly likely to follow suit.
  • When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would fracture, organizations began scenario planning to shift production sources, relocate employees, and secure key supplies.
    • Comment: Instead of using scenario planning to anticipate the future and prepare for different outcomes, it seems most of the surveyed organizations used scenario planning as a reactionary tool. Don’t wait for a crisis or a shift in the market to start thinking about the future. The world is always changing. As I wrote in The Resilient Organization, acknowledge that the future is a range of possible outcomes, learn and develop capabilities to map out multiple future scenarios, develop an optimal strategy for each of those scenarios, then continually test the effectiveness of these strategies. This does not necessarily mean that every change in the market will impact your business. Identify early warnings of what might be important and pay closer attention to those signals. In other words, learn to separate the signals from the noise.
  • The pandemic forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how all decisions were made.
    • Comment: Bureaucracy has for a very long time stood in the way of innovation and agility. To remain innovative and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world, the organization must have nimble leadership and an empowered workforce where employees at all levels can dream up new ideas and bring them to life. Identifying and acting on emerging threats and potential opportunities is not the job of the leader alone but every team member. To quote Rita McGrath, in her book Seeing Around Corners, she writes, “Being able to detect weak signals that things are changing requires more eyes and ears throughout the organization. The critical information that informs decision-making is often locked in individual brains.” In addition to the internal environment, the leader must also connect with the external environment (customers, competitors, regulators, and other stakeholders), looking for what is changing and how.
  • It’s worthwhile for leaders of any team to absorb the lessons of sense-respond-adapt, even if there is no emergency at hand.
  • Sensing: Treat the far-flung parts of your enterprise as listening stations. The question leaders must ask is, “What are we learning from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen for potentially significant anomalies and ensure that important information is not trapped in organizational silos.
    • Comment: Cost and sales data are lagging indicators that reveal the consequences or outcomes of past activities and decisions. Although this information can help leaders spot trends by looking at patterns over time, it doesn’t help understand the future and inform what needs to be done for the numbers to tell a different story. In addition to lagging indicators, pay attention to current and leading indicators and understand the relationship between these indicators and outcomes.
  • Responding: Improve communication across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that acts as connective tissue for the enterprise.
    • Comment: In addition to creating mechanisms that allow the free flow of information both inside and outside the organization, decision-makers should also be comfortable receiving information that challenges their personal view of the world, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Create a culture of psychological safety where people are not afraid to share bad news for fear of getting punished, but rather are acknowledged and rewarded for speaking up. Leveraging the diversity of thought enables leaders to anticipate the future as an organization, decide what to do about it collectively, and then mobilize the organization to do what’s necessary.
  • Adapting: Challenge assumptions, and question orthodoxies. There’s always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by applying existing practices harder and faster. One way to get at those deeper issues and encourage double-loop learning is to ask, “What needs to be true for this to be the right approach?”
    • Comment: In an increasingly uncertain environment, it’s difficult to survive and thrive with an old business model or outdated technologies. Many businesses fail because they continue doing the same thing for too long, and they don’t respond quickly enough and effectively when conditions change. As a leader, stay curious and connected to the external environment, look for market shifts, understand what needs to be regularly refreshed and reimagined, adopt new technologies and capabilities, and adapt in ordinary times but also during times of transition. Unfortunately for many leaders, it’s just more convenient for them to continually downplay the fact that conditions are changing than take the appropriate course of action that drives business success.

How are you preparing your organization for potential future disruptions?

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The Collaborative Organization

These days the term collaboration has become synonymous with organizational culture, creativity, innovation, increased productivity, and success.

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. At the peak of the crisis, several companies instructed their workers to adopt remote working as a health and safety precautionary measure.

Two years into the pandemic, they are now asking their employees back to the office full time or are planning to adopt a hybrid model.

The need to preserve our collaborative culture and accelerate innovation are two of the top benefits being cited by organizational and team leaders for bringing workers back.

Collaboration is indeed essential for the achievement of team goals, functional objectives, and the overall success of the organization.

Today’s breakthrough innovations are emerging from many interacting teams and collaborative relationships.

When teams, functions, and organizations collaborate, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; group genius emerges, and creativity unfolds.

But, what makes a successful collaboration? What are the key enabling conditions?

  • It extends beyond the boundaries of the organization. Business success is a function of internal and external relationships. Instead of viewing your business in vacuo, understand that you are part of an ecosystem. External to your organization, who do you need to partner with to enhance your value creation processes, achieve/exceed your objectives, or successfully execute your strategy?
  • Ensure the objectives are clear and there is shared understanding by everyone. Unclear objectives are one of the topmost barriers to team and organizational performance.
  • Foster a culture that encourages opinions and ideas that challenge the consensus. People should feel free to share their ideas and not hold back for fear of others penalizing them or thinking less of them. Collaboration is hindered when one or two people dominate the discussion, are arrogant, or don’t think they can learn anything from others.
  • Groups perform more effective under certain circumstances, and less effective under others. There is a tendency to fixate on certain topics of discussion amongst groups which often leaves members distracted from their ideas. To reduce the negative effects of topic fixation, members of the group should be given periods to work alone and switch constantly between individual activity and group interaction.
  • Effective collaboration can happen if the people involved come from diverse backgrounds and possess complementary skills to prevent conformity. The best collective decisions or creative ideas are often a product of different bodies of knowledge, multiple opinions, disagreement, and divergent thought processes, not consensus or compromise.
  • New technologies are making collaboration easier than ever, enabling us to increase our reach and broaden our network. Although new technology helps, it will not make your organization collaborative without the right culture and values in place. First, define what you want to achieve through collaboration then use these tools to promote creative collaboration.

How else are you championing collaboration within your organization to create value and succeed?

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Preparing for Geopolitical Shocks

Geopolitical instability has steadily increased over the past years, and uncertainty in the global economy is at an all-time high. Thanks to globalization and advances in technologies, we now live and work in a tightly interconnected world, one in which the boundaries that previously separated domestic from global issues have disappeared.

Threats are no longer confined to traditional political borders, social structures, and geographic boundaries. Geopolitical shifts have dramatically altered the global economic landscape and brought politics and business together.

The rise of China as an economic and politically influential power has threatened the dominance of the United States as the world’s largest economy. Although the opening of China and a market of 1.4 billion people have benefited both countries, it has also intensified competition and sparked U.S. economic and technological espionage accusations against China, leading to strained relations between the two giants.

U.S. companies operating from China have felt the impact of this tense relationship. The opposite is true for Chinese companies in the U.S.

Across Europe, national populism is on the rise and now a serious force. In 2016, the United Kingdom shocked the world when it voted to leave the European Union, generating reverberating effects across markets.

Banks and financial services companies that once benefited from the EU passporting system have had their cross-border banking and investment services to customers and counterparties in the many EU Member States impacted, causing them to reimagine their value proposition models.

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another example of a geopolitical event that has had devastating effects on human livelihood and businesses. Although the conflict between the two countries has risen over the years, I think it’s fair to say that few political analysts, governments, and businesses predicted a war to happen.

The war has created a humanitarian crisis, rattled global commodity and energy markets, caused prices to soar, and forced many international companies to temporarily suspend their Russian activities or completely cut ties with the country.

Global supply chains which are already fragile and sensitive due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing new challenges in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Multilateral economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia. A state of affairs that was unthinkable months ago and is now threatening to derail the nascent global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the global domino effect of geopolitical events and the shrinking of the distance between markets and politics, the need to better understand and more effectively mitigate geopolitical risk has become more urgent. The business impacts, whether direct or indirect, vary by company type and industry sector.

Your company may not be able to prevent wars between nations, but you can anticipate and better prepare for geopolitical shocks:

  • Integrate strategy, risk, and performance decision-making. Consideration of risks to business success is an important part of the strategy selection and execution process, not an afterthought.
  • Develop a better understanding of geopolitical trends and how they are changing. For example, what are the megatrends in business, politics, and technology that are making geopolitical risks more diverse, prevalent, and consequential?
  • Assess the links between these geopolitical events and business performance. What are the events that matter most to your business? For example, how might current global political trends pose physical, business, and reputational risks to your parent organization?
  • Anticipate how these trends are likely to play out in the short, medium, and long terms, and develop mitigation strategies for each geopolitical scenario. Proactively anticipate and plan for radically different worlds, instead of reacting to problems as they arise
  • Review your mitigation strategies as the world changes. Are they effective enough in case of a major shock?
  • Develop capabilities for continuous learning to anticipate, address, and recover from geopolitical crises.

What do you think?

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