Thursday, May 26, 2011

ERM-BC-COOP: Gaining knowledge


Before donning my risk management hat I was in "communications."

That translates to: technical documentation, public relations, marketing, and newspapering. I never called myself a "journalist"; that was too fancy for the likes of this scrivener.

When I worked for the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, I wrote a full newspaper page about Three-Mile Island and the safety controversy surrounding it at the time.

When I started gathering information for the article I knew nothing - nada, zero, klum - about nuclear energy or power plants.

By the time I was finished interviewing the pro-plant, the anti-plant, and the state's experts I knew a great deal about nuclear power plants. Hardly an expert, but "knowledgeable."

In Gillette, WY, I learned about coal; in Ely NV about copper mining and smelting. Aside from knowing about coal fires smoldering under some Pennsylvania towns, before I got to Gillette I had little idea of coal mining and storage. I was educated via "OJT" - On the Job Training."

For a reporter, OJT means interviewing people. It means LISTENING to people and asking the "right" questions.

Back in the day, reporters were expected to provide, as Detective Joe Friday (Jack Webb) would intone, "Just the facts"; putting a "spin" on hard news was, to put it mildly, "discouraged."

I learned about government's inner workings by interviewing the people in the know. Ditto higher education, banking, transportation, and other topics I discovered really interesting.

The thing I learned early on, and the key to whatever success I had as a "communicator," was how to ask questions. Listening to the answers, and often following a tangent suggested by my source, was a major part of Interviewing 101.

This rant is prompted by a blog I read earlier today by auditor Richard Chambers. The entry that caught my eye was titled You Don't Have to Be a Clown to Audit the Circus in which Mr. Chambers makes much the same point that I often try to make here:

    The risk management practitioner need not be an expert in every business function in order to protect the function from risks.

The risk management practitioner, like the auditor, needs to be expect in his or her field; in our case, risk management.

I don't need to know the inner workings of a micro computer nor how bits and bytes are packed for fast transit to "wherever." Likewise I don't need to know double-entry bookkeeping or how to disassemble a 16-inch valve, or how to run a switchboard/reception desk, or even how to provide building security.

I DO need to know how to talk to the people who do these things.

Just for the record, I have done everything except double-entry bookkeeping.

At one point I knew nothing of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, I couldn't even spell "FFIEC." But I listened to a client and "discovered" the FFIEC on the WWW.

Funny enough, my next client needed my knowledge of the FFIEC.

Besides the ability to listen, interviewers - be they risk management practitioners or auditors - need to be sincerely curious about the processes performed by the folks we are interviewing.

We need to listen to everyone - managers AND the people in the trenches.

    I once asked an HR manager if he had anything I needed to consider as a risk.

    He thought and replied: "Not a thing."

    His assistant - who had more HR experience than the manager - innocently asked "What about the I-9s?"

    Suddenly the HR manager realized he did have something the lack of which could be very expensive if the Feds came asking for the paperwork.

Talk to everyone.

Listen to everyone.

What we doNOT need to be is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in all things.

There is a "flip side" to all the above.

A person who is an SME for, say, an HP3000 running Oracle might think he or she knows everything there is to know about HP3000s running Oracle; after all, the expert just completed an audit/plan that involved an HP3000 running Oracle.

Except THIS HP3000 has a different OS version and the Oracle is "tweaked" differently and ...

I knew how to fly an Aeronca Model 7 Champion, but rest assured flying a "Champ" is a great deal different from piloting a Boeing 7*7 or even a Beechcraft King Air 350i. (By the way, when did the Beech Banana [Bonanza] lose its distinctive "V" tail?)

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