Column: Risk Management

Stop and Think

By: | June 1, 2017 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]
Topics: June 2017 Issue

I have always seen myself as a good multitasker. I think I enjoy the challenge of taking on more and more; like a juggler training to beat a world record for how many balls can be kept in the air at any one time. My philosophy has always been: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

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Research tells us that busy people really do accomplish more. Simply put, being busy reduces our sense of failure by staying busy.

But I confess, my thinking started to fall apart when I started working as a senior executive. My day typically started just after dawn and didn’t end until well into the evening.

My days were filled by my eager admin with back-to-back meetings, all day, every day.

I rarely took lunch. I never took a break. So many balls, so little time, no time to work.

Only after staff went home did I have a chance to do any work. I was tired and wired. I likely wasn’t making the best decisions. Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

I knew this juggling act was unsustainable long term. I sought counsel and got the simplest advice from a very seasoned and successful executive colleague. I was instructed to boldly “schedule time to think.” Stay busy, but stay busy in a smart way.

We have all heard that taking scheduled breaks makes us happier, more focused and more productive. Science has proven time and again that breaks save us from confusion.

Our brains were not designed for extended focus. Our brains need a brief interruption to reset, an opportunity to deactivate then reactivate. In fact, a break helps us better retain information, helps us make better connections with information received, and forces us to take a step back and reevaluate what we are trying to achieve, keeping us from getting lost in the weeds.

Knowing all this, why do people still find it hard to take breaks? Is there a stigma attached to them, making one feel almost guilty or less productive? Moreover, why is this attitude more prevalent at the C-Suite level? Does the idea of the boss taking a break make them look weak? Fallible?

Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

Staffers who take a break often take a walk, exercise at the gym, get a coffee, or chat with friends or coworkers. In my experience it is rare to see senior leaders do this. We tend to take our breaks in private.

The best advice I got was to first commandeer my calendar from my zealous admin and personally schedule chunks of time in my calendar for “thinking.” I used a calendar code in the subject line: “ABC” – “Available By Cell.”

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These time slots were not to be interrupted with impromptu meetings and I was to be communicated with by cell for emergencies only. I needed the freedom to leave the office; the freedom to think.

A dominant part of an executive’s role is to think strategically. Leaders need to think, analyze and access information as to guide the future for their staff and the company. Strategic thinking is one of the most critical activities for a company.

Stopping and thinking is the best risk control measure, assuring that proper decisions can be made.

As Meg Wheatley said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and often fail to achieve anything useful.”  &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Risk All Stars

Immeasurable Value

The 2017 Risk All Stars strengthened their organizations by taking ownership of improved risk management processes and not quitting until they were in place.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 3 min read

Being the only person to hold a particular opinion or point of view within an organization cannot be easy. Do the following sound like familiar stories? Can you picture yourself or one of your risk management colleagues as the hero or heroine? Or better yet, as a Risk & Insurance® Risk All Star?

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One risk manager took a job with a company that was being spun off, and the risk management program, which was built for a much larger company, was not a good fit for the spun-off company.
Rather than sink into inertia, this risk manager took the bull by the horns and began an aggressive company intranet campaign to instill better safety and other risk management practices throughout the organization.

The risk manager, 2017 Risk All Star Michelle Bennett of Cable One, also changed some long-standing brokerage relationships that weren’t a good fit for the risk management and insurance program. In her first year on the job she produced premium savings and in her second year is in the process of introducing ERM company-wide.

Or perhaps this one rings a bell. The news is trickling out that a company is poised to dramatically expand, increasing the workforce three- or four-fold. Having this knowledge with certainty would be a great benefit to a risk manager, who could begin girding safety, workers’ comp and related programs accordingly. But things sometimes don’t work that way, do they? Sometimes the risk manager is one of the last people to know.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance.

In the case of 2017 Risk All Star winner Steve Richards of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the news of an expansion spurred him to action. He completely overhauled the company’s workers’ compensation program and streamlined its claim management system. The results, even with a much higher headcount, were reduced legal costs, better return-to-work experiences for injured workers and a host of other improvements and savings.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance. Sometimes it took years for a particular risk solution, as promoted by a risk manager, to find acceptance.

In other cases a risk manager got so excited about a solution, they never even considered getting turned down. They just kept pushing until they carried the day.

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Butler University’s Zach Finn became obsessive about what he felt was a lackluster effort on the part of the insurance industry to bring in new talent. The former risk manager for the J.M. Smucker Co. settled on the creation of a student-run captive to give his risk management students the experience they would need to get hired right out of college.

The result was a better risk management program for the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and immediate traction in the job market for Finn’s students.

A few of our Risk All Stars told us that the results they are achieving were decades in the making. Only by year-in, year-out dedication to gaining transparency about her co-op’s risks and learning more and more about her various insurance carriers, did Growmark Inc.’s Faith Cring create a stalwart risk management and insurance program that is the envy of the agricultural sector. Now she’s been with some of her insurance carriers more than 20 years — some more than 30 years.

Having the right idea and not having a home for it can be a lonely, frustrating experience. Having the creativity, the passion and perhaps, most importantly, the perseverance to see it through and get great results makes you a Risk All Star. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.

See the complete list of 2017 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]