Tuesday, September 13, 2011


'Creating' a culture


There is an interesting blog article by Ron Ashkenas at http://tinyurl.com/3oktgpm titled You Can't Dictate Culture — but You Can Influence It.

Mr. Ashkenas' position is that "Leaders can influence behaviors in several ways — and by so doing shape the culture of their firms. Whether you are a CEO or a department manager, here are three steps that you can take:"

Two of the steps "Convey your vision of a winning culture" and "Demonstrate how new cultural behaviors can advance the business" are within the capability of the risk management practitioner. The third, "Put teeth into the new culture by integrating it into HR processes" is beyond our pay grade, but perhaps within that of the risk management program sponsor.

Convey your vision of a winning culture

    "What are the most critical behaviors that will characterize the culture you want to create?" the author asks. He then cites how Jack Welch "used the mantra of "speed, simplicity, and self-confidence" as the beacon for his transformation of GE's culture in the 1990's "

    We are not the head of the business but we do have a goal to make everyone aware of risks in their work and personal environment. Awareness + Action = Survival

    We, as risk management practitioners, can help develop this several ways.

    Most important, we can be seen doing our job - looking for threats to the organization.

    Putting up fancy posters won't do it, but being seen in action will.

    True stories

    I once worked for an Israeli company in the U.S. (Actually, I worked for several Israeli companies in the U.S., but as a risk management practitioner at only one.)

    I was concerned about flooding so I made a tour of the area looking for drains to draw off water that could be trapped between a blast berm and the building.

    The building had a lot of glass, and a number of people in the first floor call centers saw me walking around the building with my head down.

    When I came back inside, several approached me wondering just what I was doing.

    I explained and, having their attention, did a little flag waving for risk management.

    Another company that engaged my services was so much behind risk management that when it held the obligatory evacuation exercises it fed the troops - and took care of the practitioner, too. Great company.

    The difference between the two organizations is that the former disregarded the culture of awareness - and paid the price later - and the latter encouraged it.

Demonstrate how new cultural behaviors can advance the business

    For the risk management practitioner, that may be easier said than done, but it can be done.

    One of the contract managers at the Israeli company had piles and piles of hard copy contracts.

    My concern, and I convinced him it should be his as well, was that something could happen and the paper would be damaged or destroyed. How could the company prove it had a contract with ZYX Company?

    The risk management approach protected the documents AND lightened the contract manager's load.

    The solution was simple: digitize the contracts, including the signature page.

    The manager was concerned that a digital signature page would fail the test of authenticity, so the compromise was to digitize everything - scan it into a computer and backup the file to the servers which were backed up nightly - and send the hardcopy signature page to the back up archive along with the tapes. Now, when the contract manager went on the road to negotiate new contracts with the clients, he carried a CD with the contract that could be modified on the spot. A new signature page could be printed out and signed while everyone was gathered together.

    The contract manager became a believer - and shared his new found "faith" with his peers.

    Unfortunately, there are too many organizations - and it's been my misfortune to be a captive practitioner in several - that prefer to work against any effort to develop a culture conducive to risk management. Interestingly, several had suffered disasters, yet refused to learn any lessons.

Put teeth into the new culture by integrating it into HR processes

    According to Ashkenas, "People tend to do what's measured and rewarded. So a third step for building a new culture is to use the desired behaviors as criteria for hiring, promoting, rewarding, and developing people."

    About the best the practitioner can do is to suggest and promote this to management. To my mind, the emphasis should be on the carrot, not the stick.

    The company I commended earlier in this post insisted that everyone - staff, contractors, and the executive suite occupants - clear the building during evacuation exercises. Compare that with another organization that ignored rank-and-file staff hiding in the bathroom and - hard to believe but true - under a desk when an evacuation alert was sounded. Amazingly, the alert was announced, with day and time, two days before the event by large signs in the lobby. The people could have ridden the elevator down and taken their lunch just before the alarm sounded!

There ARE things we - practitioners - can do to wave the flag, to make people aware of risks. Many of the things are low budget items - do a survey to see who knows the location of the nearest fire extinguisher and who can name the two nearest exits. If you have someone with mobility issues, see if the person knows if the exit provides a paved path to the assembly area; it's tough pushing a wheelchair over mud or deep sand.

Promote buddy systems so that small groups of 5 to 10 employees keep an eye out for each other.

So far, the organization's budget is totally intact.

We DO need support from the executive suite. We are more likely to get that support if we can show progress without a hit on the budget.

Not everything will be free, but if management can see progress, maybe it can find a few coins for more "advanced" efforts. Cookies and coffee, maybe?

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