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Part II | Perception: it’s like building a house vs. Reality: it’s like running a farm


It’s like building a house


It’s like running a farm

There are certain building blocks to any program, but how we approach risk management planning will inform our results from the start. Keeping an eye towards sustainability is key.

Understand what we’re building

A risk management plan is less a list of action items as it is a system—an interconnected set of elements, coherently organized in a way that achieves a predetermined goal with triggering events that are networks of cause and effect. A school is a system. So is a city, a factory, a corporation, and a national economy. And systems can be embedded within systems, which are embedded in yet more systems—a tree is a system that exists within the system of the forest, which exists within the system of a landmass, which exists within the system of the earth, and so on and so on.

Be a farmer

People seem to be inclined to think of risk management as building a house: First, you get blueprints (program structure), hire a contractor (assign team members), and develop the project management template (make a schedule). Then you need to buy building materials (software, catering orders for lunch meetings) and lay the foundation (collect data like business impact analyses, threats, and vulnerabilities)… You get the picture.

But houses are fairly self-sustaining systems once they’re built. And we want them built quickly—they’re a short-term project. In the risk management world, that translates to making a few templates, checking some boxes, an audit, and playing an annual tabletop exercise as a quick refresher (basically, cleaning out gutters and washing windows, to continue the analogy).

But what if we think about running a risk management program as if we were running a farm?

We still need to build a house, but a farm deals with people, plants, and animals that need daily care and are subject to uncontrollable threats such as weather or disease. A farm requires daily, as well as mid- and long-term, attention, care, and planning. Farmers have intimate knowledge of their house, land, crops, and animals and take care of them 365 days a year—there’s no locking the gate and going on a long vacation. There are no shortcuts, and no Farm Cash, either. You reap only what you sow.

When we see our program as a farm, we approach it differently.

What to remember

Like a farm, a risk management program is much more than the sum of its parts. It needs to be adaptive, dynamic, goal-seeking, self-preserving, and able to evolve. Just like any system, it should be able to respond to events, seek goals, mend injuries, and attend to its own survival in life-like ways… even though it consists of non-living things.

Systems can be self-organizing, and are often self-repairing over at least some range of disruptions. Once we see a risk management plan as a system more akin to a farm, we’ll see a relationship between structure and behavior. We’ll understand what makes it produce poor results, and how to shift and adjust.

  • Approach the program as a living system: Prepare to adapt, adopt, and improve. Take care of your relationships.
  • Plan ahead: Compare the investment required in building a house vs. running a farm. Define Return On Investments (ROIs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on each. Provide long-term planning five (5) to ten (10) years with contingency and clear triggers for change.
  • Organize: Approach the program like we’re running a farm and map short-, mid-, and long-term activities and investment. Need to manage today’s projects as well as seasonal and long-term projects simultaneously.
  • Step back: Understand people’s behavior, perceptions, and beliefs regarding success and failure.
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Related content

5 fresh perspectives: seeing the world differently
Part I | Perception: people will believe vs. reality: people just don’t care
Part II | Perception: it’s like building a house vs. Reality: it’s like running a farm
Part III | Perception: it’s a paint-by-numbers vs. Reality: you paint it like pollock
Part IV | Perception: the risk manager’s job is to manage risk vs. Reality: to run a company
Part V | Perception: we can control everything vs. Reality: we can only influence