What’s Your Tolerance for Risk vs Resilience?

calm down don't panicAs a consultant, I regularly work with managers who want predictability. To get that predictability, they want to remove “all” of the risk. They do a lot of up-front planning and estimation. They try to predict how things will go. Then, “Something Happens.” That Something requires adaptability and resilience to manage the risk.

Some of the planning did help prepare for Something. However, most of the planning was not that useful. Worse, because they couldn’t predict the “Something,” they still encountered most of the risks they tried to remove. And even more risks occurred.

Is “removing” risks possible or useful?

Should You Remove Risk Where Possible?

I’m an expert in product development. I do want to remove or anticipate known risks. (Every organization has its own tendency towards certain risks.) I only want to spend just enough time managing those risks.  Spending a lot of time to remove risks? Not my style.

That’s because I can’t tell which risks will pop up. My expertise tells me that once we address the typical risks for this organization, we’re better off using resilience, not risk management.

We often know enough to:

  • Assess the relative risk of various outcomes, especially for the known risks.
  • Be aware of early warning signs for unknown risks.
  • Create resilience when Something Happens.

What prevents people from assessing relative risk? IME, people have trouble assessing relative risks. For example, some people worry about the COVID vaccine. They say things such as, “What will happen in 20 years?”

We can’t know for certain about events 20 years in the future. However, we do know a lot about people who get very sick with COVID now. We also know a lot about how community transmission creates mutations. (These mutations are an early warning signal for unknown risks.)

I decided that I wanted the vaccine because I want to be here in 20 years. If I caught COVID and had a bad case, I could not be sure I would be here in 20 years.

That made my choice to have the vaccine easy. For me, the relative risk of the vaccine now is quite low. The relative risk of the disease is too high.

I removed many risks for me—and for others—when I got the vaccine. However, I could not remove all the risks. That’s why I now focus on resilience.

Focus on Resilience

Our feelings prevent us from either more useful planning or creating resilience.

Those pesky feelings! That’s why when I focus on resilience instead of trying to reduce risks, I achieve more.

When I focus on creating resilience, I purposefully consider more options. That option generation fuels my belief in myself (and in my team). The more I believe in myself, the more I exercise my adaptability muscles.

I feel better about myself.

How we feel matters even more as we move to a “normal” of some sort. I don’t understand how people think we will “return” to the way things were. Those days are gone. A year ago, I wrote We Won’t Return to Normal; We Will Discover Normal. We’ve had more than a year where we did need to remove risk. And now, removing risk isn’t enough. We need to focus on resilience.

When we focus on resilience, we assess the risks of our actions or inactions. (That’s the noticing a change part.) Then we can create more options and create more adaptability and reinforce our resilience.

Instead of trying to remove all the risks, let’s see where resilience gets us. Even at a reduced level, the virus will be with us for a while. The more we focus on emotional and physical resilience, the more options we can create for all of us to succeed.

While we can remove many risks—and for the virus, that means vaccinations—we can’t remove all the risks. How can we use resilience to create a society that works better?

Can We Create Resilient Workplaces?

Maybe a resilient society is a big ask. However, my clients discuss how to reduce risk to bring people “back” to the office. I’ve suggested many alternatives, including not bringing people into a common workplace—for now. We discuss risk management such as: mandating vaccines, social distancing, and more.

However, my clients cannot reduce “all” the risks. And we know we have one additional piece of information: my clients have succeeded with their remote workplaces over the past year. They can continue that until they can create resilience with in-person work.

Yes, I am saying that the risks right now for in-person work are still quite high. We are much better off making our remote workplaces more resilient than trying to create in-person work that creates too many risks.

We can use resilience to create better work environments. Both physically and psychologically.

That’s the question this week: What’s your tolerance for risk vs resilience?

1 thought on “What’s Your Tolerance for Risk vs Resilience?”

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