erm engagement

Improve ERM Engagement with This One Subtle Shift

In a perfect world, business units and executives would be flocking to the ERM professional to find solutions to vexing problems facing the organization.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

In a 2018 survey, lack of engagement and executive buy-in was reported as the #1 challenge to implementing ERM effectively. To put it plainly – without engagement and a champion at the executive level, ERM will struggle to deliver strategic value and be viewed as more of a documentation exercise for satisfying regulators.

While technical concepts like risk identification, risk reporting, risk monitoring, and many others are important, they are just one piece of the ERM puzzle. To be effective, deliver the best value possible, and maximize executive engagement, ERM professionals must think beyond technical concepts and standards like COSO or ISO 31000.

Despite the fact that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, in the end, relationships and people skills not only play a pivotal role between success and failure of ERM in an organization, but the pivotal role. As I discuss in this post on why an elevator pitch is not an effective tool for increasing ERM engagement, you have to talk with people and not at them.

In order to do this and improve ERM engagement, your focus must be on your “client” and not you.

As ERM has evolved, so too has the role of the ERM professional. Rather than giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to the company’s strategy or a particular project or initiative, you should assume the role of an internal advisor or consultant providing a risk perspective to decisions and challenges facing the organization.

In my journey as an ERM consultant, no book has been more helpful than The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients by David Fields.

One of the core concepts David talks about in his book is Right-Side Up Thinking*.

As he explains in the first chapter, it’s completely normal for our world view, thoughts, and attention to be focused on ourselves first and foremost and then subsequently on family, friends and acquaintances. The broader world is somewhere off in the distance.

But in order to be successful, consultants must embrace Right-Side Up Thinking. Put into an illustration, this concept essentially takes an upside down pyramid where you are the focus of your attention and flips it right-side up.**


Here are a couple of examples of what this means…

  • Instead of worrying about what executives and business unit managers think about you, focus on what they think of themselves.
  • Rather than boasting about your capabilities, skills and experience, focus on their needs and wants.
How you can apply Right-Side Up Thinking to increase ERM engagement.

While I’ve alluded to this already, the role of an ERM professional should be similar to that of a consultant, so many concepts found in David’s book can be applied to your situation.

When speaking with a potential or current client, I don’t boast about my qualifications, skills, or experience. Instead, the focus of my attention is on their particular problems and what is needed to help them get to their desired result.

In the context of your job as an internal risk consultant, the following quote from the book is especially instructive:

Show you understand your prospects’ situation, their problems, and their aspirations. Speak to what they will gain, not what you will do. Talk about the experience they will have if they engage you, not the process you will go through.

Did you read that last part again? “…Not the process you will go through.” Don’t talk to them about the steps of risk identification, risk assessment, etc. Instead, discuss what will they experience (see, feel, think) while going through this “engagement” with ERM.

Adopting right-side up thinking is not something that happens instantly…it takes some time.

One place you can begin though is in your emails. Do they begin with “I” or do they begin with “You”? Rather than saying “I enjoyed our meeting…” you should tweak it to say something like “Our conversation today was very helpful to see your point of view…” or “You were a pleasure to speak with…” It’s not that using “I” is forbidden, but communications must focus on the executive or business or else it will likely be ignored.

In the end, your role as an ERM professional should be about finding solutions to their problems, not pushing a certain method or process. Understand that you may not be able to provide every solution, but by adopting Right-Side Up Thinking, you can help find the right solution and therefore increase ERM engagement and subsequently your value to the organization.

What methods have you used to boost ERM engagement in your organization?

Sharing your thoughts and experiences can be a great tool for learning more about how to harness ERM to ensure your company’s success. Please feel free to leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

I also strongly recommend David’s other book – The Executive’s Guide to Consultants – which is designed to help your organization get the most value out of any consulting engagements, be they ERM related or not.

If you are struggling to gain executive buy-in and build ERM engagement, I invite you to continue browsing some of the articles linked above or contact me at your convenience to discuss potential solutions to your company’s situation.

Featured images courtesy of Romain V via

*Right-Side Up Thinking copyright David A. Fields. Used with permission.

**Images copyright David A. Fields. Used with permission.

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This blog was launched to provide strategy and risk practitioners with a go-to resource to better guide their efforts within their companies. Thank you for bringing me and my team along to be part of your journey towards better risk management, strategic planning and execution, and overall decision-making. Happy reading!

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