How risk leaders should adapt to the 2022 workplace

Stephen Sidebottom, chair of the Institute of Risk Management, explores the widespread challenge facing organisations of adapting to ongoing, unpredictable change, and why excellent risk management has never been a greater priority

For most organisations responding well to the impact of the pandemic was the biggest challenge of the past year. Managing new ways of working, crises in the supply chain, cyber risk, hiring and engaging people, and the Great Resignation have been some of the most important concerns for leaders.

The growing focus on ESG risks means many organisations are already recognising the importance of understanding how they contribute to society and the obligations they have to people in their community, whether work colleagues or part of the wider ecosystem. This translates into a renewed focus on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a driver of sustainable performance and a growing debate about the role of organisations in the fight for social justice.

I wanted to start the year by asking what this means for risk leaders and what they need to do to ready themselves for the challenges of 2022? I propose four key development areas:

Reshape yourself as an inclusive leader
The key change risk leaders need to make to create an agile and adaptive performance culture in their workplace and teams is to become more inclusive as a leader.

Creating a community where all members are valued for what they bring means listening much more carefully to what people have to say, encouraging people to share their perspectives, and engaging with challenging conversations on the things that really matter to people at work and in their lives.

Your new favourite question as a leader should be ‘what do you think?’

Engage and collaborate
Successful risk management now requires a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach with a deep capacity to experiment, share, and make sense of a changing world. In an increasingly hybrid and connected world of work, risk leaders need to engage consciously and deliberately to create agile networks that provide insight, drive performance, and support high levels of employee engagement.

Risk leaders need to plan how to cultivate relationships and build networks both within their organisations and externally.

Your new favourite question as a leader should be ‘how can I help?’

Explore the unknown
Our common experience of the past two years teaches us all that the world is complex and unpredictable. The model of a leader who knows the answer and directs their people on what to do is increasingly anachronistic. Problems are no longer mostly technical, and leaders don’t have answers to complex, adaptive challenges. Most leaders aren’t great at learning about new things. They tend to operate in confirmatory bubbles, and many see ‘knowing the answer’ as part of their authority.

Becoming curious about the things you don’t know can therefore seem quite difficult, and it requires humility and a real desire to learn and understand. As a leader this also means creating space for uncertainty and experimentation in your teams.

Your new favourite question as a leader should be ‘what am I missing?’

Focus on skills and education
Preparing your organisations and workforces for post pandemic changes means focusing not only on practical changes to the workplace but a whole set of challenges about building the right culture, skills, and capabilities. This requires careful calibration of the role of leaders and what is changing in your expectations of your people.

Preparing your staff now, through training, education, qualification, and skill building will help them maximise the post pandemic recovery and support new strategic directions.  Prioritising staff training, retention, and career growth is much more cost effective than recruiting for new positions, retains institutional knowledge, and creates a high level of staff engagement, commitment, and loyalty.

Your new favourite question as a leader should be ‘how can I help you learn and grow?’

Click here to read a case study on Michelle McMillan, GradIRM, Principal Risk Manager, The City of Edinburgh Council about how the Institute of Risk Management helped her career through IRM training and qualifications.

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