News Risk Management 24 Jan 2018

Top five steps for risk managers' communication with executives

24 Jan 2018

Communication is key for risk managers to make the leap into the role of trusted partner and strategic advisor, and get a "seat at the table", says a new report from RIMS, the risk management society.

As executives tend to be risk takers, they want to hear why something will work, instead of why it will not, said RIMS’ “The Top Five Steps for Communicating with Executives” report. They have a limited bandwidth for risk management details, and limited time. The report, prepared based on interviews with risk professionals, proposes five tips for risk managers to engage their leadership.

  1. Prepare for the Meeting

Preparation is a no-brainer for marquee meetings such as quarterly board reporting or executive team debriefing. But what is less obvious is that you need to carefully prepare for the informal, one-on-one meetings with executives that can happen at any time. The experts interviewed for this report said that these meetings are actually where the most groundbreaking conversations can happen, so it is important to prepare for these.

Send materials that you will be discussing via email a day or two before the meeting, and have a clear agenda for the discussion, even if you do not need to share one with the executive.

2. Listen carefully

When meeting with executives, it is essential to listen carefully to their feedback: Don’t dismiss or ignore anything an executive has to say to you about risk management, especially if it is something you have not heard before. Listening carefully can give the risk professional important information about how to proceed with the relationship.

3. Speak their language

It is important to know as much as possible about executives that risk management is meeting with. What are their motives, their pet projects? Executives without risk backgrounds can bring some new points of view to risk management’s attention. Don’t dismiss their ideas.

Executives are usually risk-takers by nature—instead of shooting down ideas or business proposals, try to make them a success with the help of risk management insight. It’s also important to tailor what risk management has to say into understandable business terms.

4. Propose solutions

Executives are not going to have risk management solutions handy. They look to the risk practitioner for guidance and a plan for moving forward. Thus your interactions with executives need to be solution-focused, and they also need to get to the point.

Avoid asking open-ended questions as it is the opposite of proposing solutions and can waste time and derail the meeting. This is where a risk manager can get into trouble or give the impression that he does not know what is going on. In addition, risk managers should not think of meetings with executives as ways to solve risk management’s problems or to check boxes, and should not go over the minutiae. They should clearly and consistently depict themselves as solution providers to executives and become known as a trusted resource.

5. Challenge yourself

The most existential challenge for risk professionals is how to make that leap from being seen as “the insurance person” or the “professional worrier” to being accepted as a critical informant of strategic decisions. They need to challenge themselves to deliver more important intelligence.

If a risk professional finds herself or himself in a position where leadership does not seem to value their work, one suggestion is to examine if the issues they are bringing up with leadership are the right ones, and if not, bring in new ideas. If the executives are dismissive, the risk manager needs to rethink what the department is showing the executive team.

Every organisation has its own culture, structure and circumstances that are unique and the five tips have worked well for the risk professionals, but others may find different ways to success. The universal truism, though, is staying tenacious in the face of setbacks.

The report was authored by Mr Brandon P. Righi. For the full report and more accounts from the risk professionals who were interviewed, visit the RIMS risk knowledge library.

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