Ten Qualities of A Good ERM Report

In order to make informed decisions, risk reporting must be of high quality. Managers need to be able to evaluate the suitability of the risk management methods they are employing to identify, assess, mitigate and monitor enterprise risks. Are these methods working? Do employees know when these methods are not working? What are the consequences of risk management failure? How can this risk management failure be resolved?

If the data used to identify and assess enterprise risks is flawed, regardless of how excellent the risk mitigation strategies are, the organization will just be wasting resources. One advantage of good regular enterprise risk reporting is that it helps management identify and evaluate the risk profile and risk strategy of the organization.

Poor enterprise risk reporting often leads to poor decision making and in the worst case scenario no decision making at all. Today, sources of risk data are vast. Managers need to know what to do with this data.  They must be able to turn this huge amount of data into a strategic asset in the form of information and knowledge that can be used to make effective decisions capable of helping the organization mitigate risks, achieve its strategic objectives and drive business performance.

The problem so many managers make poor enterprise risk management decisions is because of basing their decisions on poor quality reports. There is little value in carrying out the processes in your enterprise risk management framework without good reporting. Thus when designing and building your enterprise risk reporting structure, it is important to ensure that the report:

  • Is defined clearly: When defining the report it is important to consider the name of the report, objective(s) of the report, distribution list of the recipients, names of fields to be used, calculations required in each field, manual actions to be performed in each field and how the final report will be used. You should start considering design of the report only after the definition stage.
  • Uses a common language understood throughout the organization: Employees normally have a different understanding of the true meaning of risk. It is therefore important to ensure that there is a common understanding of the terms used in the organization’s risk report. The terms used must be clear and mean the same thing to every employee who reads them. One way of achieving this involves managers running risk awareness programs/workshops or incorporating a glossary in the enterprise risk policy document.
  • Highlights the important messages: Since managers have busy schedules, because of the limited time at their disposal, sometimes they just scan through the reports. It is therefore important that the produced risk report highlights the critical risk areas. The producer of the report need not assume that they possess equal enterprise risk management knowledge as the reader. By highlighting those critical risk areas that need management attention, for example through colour shades, managers will know where their focus is highly required and will therefore not spend much time in unimportant parts of the report.
  • Integrates quantitative and qualitative information: Enterprise risk management generates both quantitative and qualitative data thus both sets of data must be interlinked in risk reports. Relying on one set of information to report risks leads to treating risks in isolation and in turn flawed decision making.
  • Uses reliable quality data: The quality of data used in enterprise risk reporting is critical to making informed decisions. How reliable are your risk data sources? Failure to fully embed ERM throughout the organization leads to poor data quality as risk and control assessments are still not yet accepted. Continuously using data of poor quality to produce reports used by senior managers to make strategic decisions can cause them to make poor and loss-making decisions and this in turn affects buy-in of ERM throughout the organization.
  • Guides effective decision-making: Are your reports stirring up action? Many at times managers receive reports that are useless. A lot of time and resources is spent producing these reports but they serve no purpose in aiding effective decision-making. In addition to highlighting values, a good risk report must guide managers in deciding whether or not action is required. If the produced reports fail to highlight the need for action or some form of decision, then their existence should be question.
  • Is produced in a timely manner: Let us suppose that risk reporting is done on a monthly basis, chances are that values in the report will change monthly, there is no point in producing a risk report halfway through the month as the report would have relatively little value. It is therefore important to ensure that reports are produced in time to enable management make use of them and embed ERM throughout the organization.
  • The report’s structure is evaluated continuously:  In a constantly dynamic and volatile business environment, the organization’s risk profile, indicators and controls is also most likely to change. This therefore signals a need for change in the structure of the organization’s risk report. For example, if the risks confronting the organization increase in number, the risk report(s) can easily grow in both length and number. It is therefore important for the report producers to establish what information really matters to the audience for whom the report is intended.
  • Enables risk ownership: Management need to take ownership of the information contained in the risk report. Thus a risk owner must be identified and this can either be an individual or a department or business line. A good risk report should enable the risk owner to take action when required to.
  • Is integrated with other processes: Organizational risks do not happen in isolation. Other business processes play a part and these should be taken into account when reporting enterprise risks. For example, by taking into account audit conclusions, resources will not be wasted as a number of people seek to solve the same problem. Also, taking into account of other processes reduces confusion and chances of inaction as the report will indicate risk acceptable actions from the other processes.

Good reports are essential to good enterprise risk management. Thus a good risk report should be able to deliver information in such a way as to support informed business decisions on the organization’s risk profile.

What else would you say are the qualities of good enterprise risk reports?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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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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