One of the best pieces of advice we received as a newly-minted risk manager was to use stories to deliver our message. It seems almost counterintuitive – risk managers live in a world that is ordered by facts and statistics, research and rules, contracts and compliance. The truth is, we need both. The successful risk manager will back up their stories with good data, but often we have to grab the attention and hearts of our colleagues to make progress. Good stories will hold our listeners’ interest, build a connection and (hopefully) offer a satisfactory conclusion.
Story-telling can be used to support a number of efforts that risk managers lead.
- Get buy-in. We are often struggling to get buy-in from senior leadership and colleagues to engage with and support risk management efforts Stories can help us get our point across while tapping our listeners’ emotions to move them to action.
- Get included. Telling stories is a great way to build relationships and make risk management seem less gloom-and-doom and more the practical, important management tool that it really is. Building relationships is about building trust, and true stories about how RM can improve people’s lives will reinforce that trust.
- Improve training. Most institutional training is dull, sometimes deadly dull. Compliance training is filled with do’s and don’ts that few people remember; stories can illuminate the why’s and will be retained.
- Share knowledge and information. Sharing stories can alert managers to types of risk situations that may exist in their operations, and help them become aware of the risks. Risk managers can be seen less as harbingers of doom and more as sources of useful information and solutions.
Where do we get the stories? There are great resources for risk management stories all around us. Starting with your own institution, reflect on certain claims or losses that have been experienced. What went well, and what didn’t? Those stories are now the basis for educating others on the risks involved in the loss. For example, telling travelers to “watch their possessions and be careful of theft” is usually met with a “Duh” response. However, if you tell them about the time that the faculty member put his knapsack with his research laptop on the overhead rack on the train to Berlin only to find it gone when he arrived at his destination, you may make an impact.
If you are new to risk management, or new to your institution, ask your risk management colleagues for their success as well as their “horror stories”, and turn them into examples. Collect stories from your business reading, including education journals, risk management news, and even just the daily world and national news. Attend conferences and go to the sessions about “what happened” or “how we did …” and you will become rich with tales of risk management.