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Using Our Eyes and Ears

Posted by Dorothy Gjerdrum on March 16, 2015 at 10:34 AM

Who do you regard as your eyes and ears when it comes to risk?

When I conduct risk identification workshops, two things always happens.  One surprises me and the other delights me. It is that most people don’t think that much about risk. Really? Honestly? That always surprises me.  It’s not that employees are not managing risk – they are.  We do that constantly, whether we realize it or not.  But unless they are in a work environment where it is constantly reinforced (think safety placards and steel-toed shoes), the management of risk usually isn’t a consistent, conscious choice.

It’s like driving my kids to school.  It’s 7 a.m. and we’re running late. I buckle my seat belt, start the engine and give a cursory glance in the rear view mirror before pulling out of the driveway.  I am doing all of that while simultaneously directing the off-to-school show: “Don’t forget to turn in your permission slip. Stop poking your brother!  Did you remember your gym shoes?”  I am managing the risk of driving without thinking about it, and anyone who has ever adjusted auto claims can tell you how common that is.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that for many employees, they perform their work duties like they are driving their car.  It’s automatic.  Therefore, when I ask the question about “risk in the workplace” I am often greeted with blank stares and puzzled expressions.  They just don’t think about it that much.

So if we want employees to be eyes and ears for us regarding risk, first we have to get their attention and talk about risk.  That means that we need to be ready to describe what we really mean when we say “risk.” 

The ISO 31000 standard defines risk as “the effect of uncertainty upon our objectives.”  The definition tells us to start with our objectives – or what is most important to us and our organizations.  After we define risk, then we consider the uncertainties that can effect whether we can achieve our objectives (effects can be both negative and/or positive).  The ISO definition is a broad definition that pushes us to consider whether we are paying attention to the right stuff (objectives, risks, threats and opportunities).

If you have conversations about risk and help employees become more risk aware, you will begin to uncover commonalities.  That’s the part that delights me – when people from very different “turfs” (or departments) become aware that they share the same risks and, as they continue the conversation, when they also start to share their solutions.  That’s when we begin to utilize the eyes and ears of many. Those are the people I want as my eyes and ears when it comes to risk. Who serves as your eyes and ears when it comes to risk? What surprises and delights you when identifying risk across departments? 


Tony Shumate

March 20, 2015 at 2:18 PM

Very good article and information posted by Ms. Gjerdrum and thanks for sharing the template for risk project management. It is a valuable tool for organizations to use during projects and evaluations of risk management.

Curtis Grogan

March 24, 2015 at 8:35 AM

within local education agency setting, I regard the lead secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, site-based safety coordinators & committees, and maintenance staff to be my eyes and ears when it becomes to risk identification.