Quick thinking trumps box ticking in dealing with risk

Don't be paralysed by fear or try to avoid all risk, writes Caron Bradshaw

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

The Charity Finance Group's annual conference earlier this month provided me with a reminder of the importance of managing risk properly.

Risk management has become a vast industry - the policies, protocols and latest thinking on how best to manage risk could fill a library. I don't think that this is a completely bad thing. Some really useful material exists, much of it essential reading if you are to avoid being shipwrecked in stormy seas. But if you become trapped in a compliance snare of box-ticking and form-filling, you will almost certainly hit the rocks.

Before the conference, we planned for challenges that might flow from things we knew about or could reasonably predict, and arranged back-up plans in the event of, for example, an IT failure or speakers cancelling. We also responded to problems we encountered along the way, such as a clash with the Queen's Speech. But nothing prepared us for the level of incompetence displayed by our courier. This most definitely was not on our register of risks.

The horror started the previous evening. The courier, whom we'd used in the past (but won't again) could not attract attention at the 24-hour manned loading bay of the QEII conference centre in Westminster. "I can see him but cannot get him to see me" was the gist of the first call, and it was a taste of things to come.

To cut a long story short, despite our arranging for the courier to deliver 14 packages to our hotel - for which the postcode and full address was provided - the boxes failed to arrive. By the time we'd tracked down the delivery the following morning - it was at a different hotel - more than 600 conference attendees were about to arrive to find no badges, signage or other essentials.

You might think this is not a good example of managing risk. But the CFG's staff team are all responsible for managing risk in their daily work - it's not something the senior staff and trustees bear sole responsibility for. So when an unexpected problem arises, the team is not completely stumped. Extra delegate lists were used for registration, old spare lanyards and some temporary signage were retrieved from the office, and the teams allocated themselves to attend to speakers, exhibitors and so on to ensure that the day could continue.

Had we switched off our brains and wedded ourselves to a set of ticked boxes, a problem like this could have caused paralysis. Had the risk register been a dusty document, reviewed occasionally by the trustees, the outcome could have been painful.

Instead, it was a great event and the attendees were unfazed and largely unaffected.

It's unlikely we will encounter the same problems again, but there will be new unforeseen challenges. Perhaps my biggest lesson this year, though, has been about the value of a team who roll up their sleeves and pull together to make sure we deliver.

So don't be paralysed by fear or try to avoid all risk. Don't put blind faith in processes and mechanisms - if you do, you won't be managing your risk at all; life isn't that smooth and predictable.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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