Risk leadership – moving culture from threat avoidance to innovation and managed risk

One of the most satisfying experiences of my professional life was contributing to a cultural transformation that was driven in significant part by engaging leaders in new risk leadership thinking and practice.

Department X provided lands and planning services to Government and the community.  After a long period of autocratic executive leadership and several changes in Government, the prevailing culture was focused on survival and on risk avoidance.   Decisions at all levels tended to be isolated (silo’d) and process bound.  Very little innovation was occurring at any level.

With a new CEO, a risk leadership conversation was initiated with the top four tiers of management.  Several large-group workshops were held over a period of 12 months, while at the same time internal policies were reviewed top-down to reduce micromanagement and red tape.  The Systemic Risk Leadership model was tailored and then implemented, with a strong focus on supporting effective and consistent decision making at all levels.  How decisions were made became as much a focus as the decisions themselves.

Over a period of two years, both thinking and practice moved significantly.  Simply walking through the Department showed that people had a new sense of vitality and a desire and an ability to find ways to improve and succeed.   Improvements were now being generated spontaneously and with confidence bottom-up.  Significantly, there was less risk documentation but much more risk conversation.

This transformation was created by many factors and was made possible by consistent leadership.  Moving how leaders thought about and practiced risk management from compliance and threat management, to leadership focused and systemic was a critical part of this.