Mitigating risk at work

It all sounds a bit corporate, doesn’t it? ‘Mitigating risk’. It’s usually a term associated with project management. You don’t need to hold a title of ‘project manager’ to manage projects; in theory, most of the tasks you carry out in your day-to-day role are either short- or long-term projects, and with each of these projects come various degrees of risk, i.e. factors that can make a project go wrong.

These factors include:

  • People – the skills, capabilities, behaviours and attitudes of those who are actively participating in the project
  • Resource – the amount of people needed for a successful project
  • Stakeholders – a step beyond ‘People’, but those who have a degree of influence and interest in the project but may not actively be involved in carrying out the project
  • Money – whether enough is available or not
  • Logistics – the logistics and scheduling needed to carry out the project
  • External influences – the economy, politics, environment, and customer behaviour.

And many more. Effective communication throughout the entire process promotes a seamless synchronicity and ensures red flags are brought to the right people’s attention at the earliest possible time.

Risk management

To quote from the aptly-named project management blog Project Manager:

“At its most simple, risk management is a process of forecasting and planning for potential challenges to your business or project. When done correctly, risk planning enables you to prioritize risk and work to eliminate or lessen the impact of the potential risks on your project or business.”

For projects, for work or for our careers, avoiding risk means that we:

  • Identify the risks, listing out all worst-case-scenarios, potential dangers and any hiccups that might and will crop up
  • Analyse these risks to determine the impact they have and which of these hiccups are in our control
  • Prioritise these risks by the likelihood of them happening
  • Mitigate these risks by putting in the appropriate and proportionate anticipatory measures – or safety nets – so that if the risks were to have an impact despite your efforts to avoid them, you can prepare and lessen the impact. This could even include a contingency plan
  • Monitor these risks, and the efforts we make, to ensure they’re always on our radar so that we are always ahead of them.

This is a standard, non-fancy risk management model. Applying this model is useful for us in two ways. Firstly, managing risk by following this model is a useful skill for anyone in any role. Managing risk from the beginning of any project you work on will help you do your role much more effectively and with minimal disruption. Not only will this promote better mental well-being (as you experience less stress from avoiding, preparing or lessening the impact of hiccups), but you also establish a reputation of being organised, credible and reliable. You are much more on top of things.

Secondly, risk management also plays a role in managing and developing our careers if we recognise it as an ongoing project. Being able to identify risks in your career trajectory means that you can adopt a more proactive approach to development, rather than winging it and dealing with hiccups as they present themselves. This is particularly helpful for those who are in an industry that’s prone to fluctuation (and really, what industry isn’t?). Being able to identify the risks that may influence your field means you can start making the necessary arrangements to mitigate that risk. We need to predict to the best of our ability where our industry will be in 5 years’ time, the demand for our skills in the market at that time, and the skill gaps that may become apparent.

For example, there’s a (necessary) focus on AI at the moment and the associated risks it brings to the job market. If you assess that your current role or career progression against this risk, you can begin now to readjust accordingly, for example upskilling, developing new skills that don’t rely on AI like soft skills, or, in really bad (but opportunistic) situations, changing careers altogether. Determining the likelihood of each risk and how it will impact your career means you can lay down the ground work in time, long before you would feel the impact and influence.

Horizon scanning

This approach to your career trajectory can be coupled with another corporate doozie: horizon scanning.

Olivier Marteaux, Principal of Horizon Scanning at the RSSB, puts horizon scanning eloquently as:

“the intelligence gathering part of strategic foresight, concerned with emerging trends, issues and uncertainties that the future may bring, and assessing their potential impact on organisations.”

While this could be seen as the same to assessing risk, I’d like to think as horizon scanning as something that scopes out opportunities, as well as risk. The quote mentions ‘emerging trends, issues and uncertainties’, and forever the optimistic as I am, their ‘potential impact’ can be just as positive as risks are negative.

Adopting this foresight means you can spot the uncertainties that lie ahead of us and see them as opportunities to learn in anticipation which can be enormously positive for your career.

Look past the corporate jargon and realise the advantages of mitigating risk and horizon scanning. Your work-life, professional reputation and career will reap the benefits if you put the effort into these.