13 case studies on how risk managers are assessing their risk culture

5 min read
Jul 14, 2020

Continuing on from last week's post, There’s no such thing as risk culture, or is there?, this is the third in a series of blogs in which we are summarising key insights gained from about 50 risk managers and CROs interviewed between December 2019 and May 2020.

There are various techniques and different mindsets on how to assess and measure risk culture. We round-up the very best case studies, tools and templates used by risk managers around the world.

To survey or not to survey?

If you start from a base of assuming you need a survey (or perhaps you have an executive or board who want one), then you are faced with two main choices:

  1. Include a number of questions in a larger employee engagement/culture survey, probably being run by HR (as one of our Member organisations did, only to discover the results didn’t align with their anecdotal feedback and experiences)
  2. Conduct a dedicated risk culture survey, which might later be re-run as a benchmark (as one former CRO at an international airline did upon joining the organisation).

However, not everyone believes a survey is the way to go. Or at least, not a survey in isolation.

It’s a self-assessment tool, for one thing, as former Bank of Queensland CRO Peter Deans pointed out in a recent Intelligence contribution (Members: access this here). You may not get the true risk picture you need, if you are only asking people if they believe they are making risk-aware decisions and are satisfied with the culture.

UK risk consultant Roger Noon shared with us a variety of tools risk managers can use in-house to help understand behaviours and diagnose culture (Members: access these tools here). Of quantitative risk culture surveys, he says: “Survey instruments can also be used so long as you and your sponsors recognise that they are typically very blunt tools, often with poor validity. They're very ‘point in time and context’ driven, and they don't really provide you with objective observable output. 

“However, they can be used to generate interesting data that creates helpful dialogue at the senior management table. They’re also useful to build engagement with the people that are part of the culture, and as part of a wider, triangulated set of data.”

In other instances, risk managers found it was not employees they initially needed to survey, but their board. Across different industries, different understandings of risk culture exist. If your board is asking about risk culture, it can be a good idea to check in that you (and they, among themselves) are all on the same page before beginning any broader projects. (Members: take a look at some sample questions about risk culture for the board here.)

So overt it’s covert

When it comes to an organisation’s overall approach to assessing and changing risk culture, there are also a few fundamentally different mindsets.

For some companies, the ‘culture overhaul’ needs to be a large project with lots of publicity and a big push from the top. In such cases, when it comes to driving change, extensive engagement and communications programs are planned, potentially including video.

We collected one case study, however, that stood out for its far more subtle and positive approach. In it, the head of risk at a large organisation with a few thousand staff spread across nine departments said there were a lot of preconceptions and quite a bit of nervousness around the idea of ‘working on risk culture’. This risk manager had therefore developed a different kind of self-assessment tool, which helped participants map their own risk culture using evidence-based attributes. 

At the end of the initial meeting (which took no more than an hour and a half), participants had identified their own areas for improvement and incorporated culture elements into their future risk planning. (Members: access this case study here.)

Sometimes risk managers reach a point where they simply have to be realistic about their resources and prospects for implementing large scale change.

In another example from the Middle East, an expat risk manager found it was a case of trying to move his company’s risk culture at different ‘clock speeds’ across the organisation’s verticals, catering to different levels of appetite, awareness and need for change between delivery teams and the C-Suite. (Members: access this case study here.)

And, finally, sometimes risk managers reach a point where they simply have to be realistic about their resources and prospects for implementing large scale change. If there’s no appetite from the top for a risk culture shift, the risk manager will have an uphill battle. We’ve collected ideas from the former risk leader at a government utility, who devised tactics for embedding changes into existing systems and processes to deliver better risk outcomes for the business. (Members: access these ideas here.)

Measuring, reporting and dashboards

We found that the facet of culture where everybody most wanted to know what everybody else was measuring and what they were doing in terms of reporting and dashboards.

Again, there were a number of different methods shared by our Members and contributors, as well as contrasting views on what actually should be measured.

For example, is it redundant to actually measure ‘risk culture’? After all, isn’t the entire point of improving risk culture to improve risk outcomes? Why not just focus on measuring the risk outcomes, with culture change happening in the background to facilitate? 

Certainly, this was the view of the former risk manager at a prominent United States government organisation, who spoke to us about building up their organisation’s risk capability over several years. (Members: read more on this here.)

Is it redundant to actually measure ‘risk culture’? After all, isn’t the entire point of improving risk culture to improve risk outcomes?

However, others saw value in tracking specific culture metrics, even if these goals were a means to an end. A scorecard or dashboard became a talking point to launch difficult conversations with different managers or executives, and the ability to show progress over time helped maintain momentum and commitment.

Over time, Peter Deans at BOQ developed and refined a ‘basket of risk culture measures’ along the same lines as the consumer price index, which he regularly updated and used to give leadership a ‘big picture view’ of how risk culture was doing.

Other contributing risk managers shared their scorecards and dashboards with us as templates, such as a scorecard example using a traffic light system across nine key risk indicators. We also collected ideas for dashboard metrics and a spreadsheet-based sunburst tool, alongside risk culture pillars.

On a final note, UK risk advisor Danny Wong shared a detailed case study on how to use data to drive an impactful risk narrative. For any risk managers who are striving to bring risk into line with many other functions in contemporary business – such as product development, sales, operations, and others that regularly use data strategically to inform decision making and best practice – this piece is essential reading. (Members: access this piece here.)

Risk Leadership Network’s Intelligence platform – our searchable database of peer-contributed case-studies, tools and templates – delves deeper into risk culture with more on diagnosing culture, addressing culture and ethics, and building a risk culture survey of boards. (Members only)

Are you an in-house risk manager who could benefit from collaborating with a global network of senior risk professionals? Talk to us about becoming a Member today.

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