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Shifting mindset around risk management can have far reaching benefits: expert

Angela Gismondi
Shifting mindset around risk management can have far reaching benefits: expert

Organizations put a lot of emphasis in trying to achieve zero when it comes to risk management and that comes with challenges, but new doors can open when we shift our mindset and take on a different view, says Kirby James, president of K. James Group/Unleashed. 

James, a master black belt in Lean Sigma, was a speaker at the Partners in Prevention virtual conference held recently and discussed how different risk management mindsets perform.

“I’m going to talk about an aspect of risk management that most people think is a great thing and yet it comes with a whole bunch of baggage that most of us don’t think about…the idea of the challenge of trying to get to zero,” said James.

“Everybody and anybody out there believes in the value of having zero risk, meaning we don’t want people to get hurt or get ill, to suffer at all. That is the most laudable goal we can have. Yet its not as straightforward as you might think.”

Rather than chasing zero, he suggested rethinking the concept of zero as a goal and applying a different way of approaching risk.


“There is nothing in this universe, in our life that has zero risk”

“That zero-based mentality can create unwanted behaviours and unwanted results and unwanted consequences,” he explained. “There is nothing in this universe, in our life that has zero risk. Everything has risk. Look for what you can do to help things get 100 per cent safer, or as close as you can. That’s a mindset that people can rally around and its going to draw the people in who are there to help make it happen.”

Organizations should focus on and promote bigger numbers such as how many days they’ve gone without an incident, he added.

“Part of the problem that comes with a zero risk mindset is that you end up having to look for zero yet you run into another unexpected and unintended problem and that’s the math.

“It’s actually kind of hard to measure nothing and not only that it gets harder and harder and harder to measure how close to zero you are the closer you get to zero,” he said. “It’s just a consequence of a small number. Big numbers tell a balanced story.”  


Our minds are like software, hardware is the brain

Our mind and our mindset impacts the way we think and behave when it comes to risk. James suggested that our minds are like software and the hardware is the brain.

 “We can’t change our brain…but the software our mind that is actually changeable, you know it and I know it because we’ve seen it happen,” explained James. “We see this all the time in personal life: maybe its around fitness, maybe you smoke and you think ‘I would like to change that.’

“What you are really changing when you think about that is your mindset and you are looking to shift it and you’re looking to shift it to get a result. The same thing is true when we talk about risk.”

He pointed to American psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of the fixed mindset, in which intelligence is static, versus the growth mindset, in which intelligence can be developed.

“The growth mindset embraces creativity, said James. “There has been a shift in the last five to 10 years with a larger emphasis on people bringing creativity to the job. In 2020, the year of the pandemic…it’s easy to have a fear-based mindset. Yet when you look at the organizations that are doing really well they’re full of people that have the growth mindset.”


Create the world that you want

He also talked about author Stephen Covey’s idea of scarcity and how the fear of not having something plays out in real life.

“Not only is the world full of risks, risks are bad, risks are a problem and not only are risks a problem, risks need to be stopped. Therefore this is in part where the idea of the need for zero comes from,” said James. “It’s a style of thinking and its very pervasive …it is quite often the most common approach to risk management.”

Covey also discusses abundance, the mindset where risk always comes with opportunity.

“Instead of being a scary place where there is not enough, instead we pivot and look at the exact same picture the other way around,” said James. “Opportunity has another beneficial consequence and that’s the opportunity really embraces creativity.

“How does this play out with risk management? It’s a complete shift. We need the world to be safe and therefore we’re going to point our creativity at the opportunity to make the risk safer.”

There are big implications to looking at risk management through this style of thinking, added James.

“On the one hand what we’ve got is we’ve got an opportunity to go and create what we want as opposed to spend our effort trying to avoid what we don’t want,” he noted. “The energy around these two things is completely different and the consequence of this is wildly different because one of them is a focus on stopping and the other one is a focus on starting.”

A shift in mindset with a matching shift in behaviour around risk management will truly change the game, James concluded.

“The real big benefit is less waste, more time doing what matters, less time trying to stop things,” he said. “It’s more efficient and less money is spent on risk management within your organization, in your broader community to stop the unwanted and more and more effort is put to create the world that we want.”


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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