6 Ways to Improve your ERM Program’s Scalability

Regardless of whether it’s an exercise program or business endeavor, there’s a certain energy and excitement when starting something new. We work with great anticipation of the benefits our efforts will bring.

But as the old Proverb originally coined in the Robert Burns poem To a Mouse says, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

What does this mean in the context of an ERM program?

Things seem to be going well in the beginning. You have good engagement from executives and managers, and they appear content that these efforts are delivering some benefit to the company.

But at some point, you start hitting roadblocks. It seems next to impossible to get the right people together, and the meetings you are able to have seem to produce nothing of value. Executives seem to be growing anxious and begin to see ERM as more of a nuisance rather than as a tool for ensuring the company’s success.

On top of this, you and your team feel overwhelmed and struggle with how to make sense of the information and data at your disposal.

It’s clear that despite that initial burst of energy and success, your ERM program has hit the proverbial brick wall or has plateaued. No longer are you growing or making progress toward a goal – you’re just hoping things will eventually become unstuck and get better.

When you hit this point, you know something needs to change, but you don’t know where to begin and too often fall into the analysis paralysis trap.

Below are 6 steps you can begin taking immediately to improve scalability and take your ERM program to the next level, so it can be a helpful tool ensuring stakeholders are making risk-informed decisions when it comes to strategy, operations, and more.

  1. Task/Process Assessment

The goal of this task/process assessment is to identify tasks that you can automate, delegate, or systemize in some way. This type of assessment needs to be broken into two parts – 1) processes and tasks directly supporting the ERM Program (risk identification, risk assessment, prioritization, etc.) for the organization at-large and 2) processes and tasks internal to the ERM team. Examples of internal tasks include scheduling meetings for a risk appetite workshop and creating presentations.

One tactic you can employ is list all your tasks over the course of a couple of weeks, evaluate the time and frequency for each task, and then prioritize what can be automated, delegated, or systemized/standardized.

To determine if the process or task should be delegated, ask yourself if you think it’s to your company’s benefit to pay your salary to do something that can easily be delegated to someone else at a lower rate, Should you as a risk leader be responsible for creating presentations that can be done by another team member for your review? Is the team leader helping facilitate the discussion during a risk workshop or taking notes?

Whatever approach you take to understand this, freeing yourself from mundane tasks better suited for someone without your level of experience and seniority can be tremendously helpful in improving your program’s scalability.

  1. Standardize processes

In the early stages of an ERM program, the goal is to simply get things moving. A lot of trial and error takes place to refine processes to fit your company’s needs and culture. At a certain point though, an ad-hoc approach like this can lead to stagnation.

To address this, use the output from #1 above to know which program processes need to be systemized/standardized. Take a look at the coming year’s calendar and document what needs to happen, who needs to be involved, and how different processes like risk identification, risk assessment, and risk analysis need to be done. This documentation exercise will make you stop and determine whether a particular process is sustainable or if adjustments are needed. It also helps identify opportunities for streamlining and any duplicative or overlapping processes.

Repeatability and consistency borne out of this process will also give assurance to executives that the ERM program will be able to deliver its promised benefits.

  1. Update technology and find opportunities to automate

When you’re developing processes and only focusing on a small number of areas in the company, it may be acceptable to use spreadsheets and manually input data. But as the scope of your program grows, so does the need for you to consider more advanced software tools designed for ERM.

Using the output from #1 above, determine whether software tools will provide you with the method to automate some of the ERM processes. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel each time you need to communicate information with a stakeholder, these software tools should include dashboards and reporting capabilities you can utilize to develop charts, graphs, and presentations. Having to export this data to another program to develop these outputs from scratch each time can be time consuming, leading your program to getting stuck on that plateau.

  1. Seek additional support from third-party vendors

It’s inevitable that you and your team will not have the needed capacity or skill sets to complete a certain task or process. In-depth quantitative risk analysis is one example, but there are countless others depending on the full nature of your role. This is a situation I frequently encountered as an industry practitioner.

To address these gaps, we had several firms available to reliably “co-source” resources, whether it was a specialty topic, like data privacy, or if we simply needed another set of experienced hands. Progress on ERM initiatives can come to a grinding halt without that extra support from a consulting firm. Just make sure that you understand what to look for in an external consultant.

Besides picking up the slack, an experienced external consultant can offer a fresh set of eyes for examining processes or outputs and determine if they make sense. And, as I explain in this article, executives are more prone to listen and take the advice from external consultants as opposed to internal staff.

(Brief note: Strategic Decision Solutions (my consulting firm) offers this type of co-sourcing support, so feel free to reach out if you need help.)

  1. Improve communication and collaboration

The goal of an ERM program is helping the company not just manage risks but take measured risks in pursuit of objectives. Achieving that goal involves effective communication and collaboration. Without it, executives, managers, the board, and other stakeholders will be confused as to your role and thus be hesitant to involve ERM in important discussions.

As I explain in a previous article on increasing ERM’s engagement in strategic planning, maintaining communication throughout the year as to your role and having an ERM champion helps ensure your efforts continue to have influence.

Sometimes one-on-one communication can be difficult, especially with the broader organization. Conducting a survey of different stakeholders can be helpful for understanding if you’re over- or under-communicating, if ERM is providing actionable information (not simply rehashing what they already know), and if you’re speaking in a language everyone can understand, among other things.

  1. Plan necessary recruiting   

Many companies carry the misconception that ERM can be a one-man show. In the long-term, this can be a mistake. After all, it can be hard for one person to both facilitate a meeting and take notes or enter data since both tasks require very distinct skills.

Now this may seem duplicative of #4, but in the case of outside vendors, you’re typically looking for help with a specific project that will take a defined amount of time or short-term support with recurring tasks to fill a gap.

Once you’ve completed other steps in this list, take some time to determine if you have the capacity to do everything effectively. And also ask yourself if you have enough work for a full-time person; if not, a shared resource may be helpful.

But either way, it can take months to find the right person for what you need. Knowing the timeframe in which you will need that person will go a long way to helping you proactively find the right person with the needed skill sets. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute but instead want to have someone in place when they’re needed.

To learn more about what to look for, check out What Qualities Does an Effective ERM Professional Have?

Whether it’s an exercise program or an initiative like ERM, no one likes to hit a plateau and watch progress crawl to a standstill. If things remain this way, the likelihood of your program being seen as more of a nuisance rather than a helpful tool for strategic decision-making are quite high.

Has your ERM program ever been stuck on a plateau? What steps have you taken to move things to the next level?

This list is not exhaustive by any means, so please don’t hesitate to share your experience by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If your ERM program feels like it’s stuck and you’re making minimal to no progress in spite of your best efforts, please feel free to reach out today to discuss what the problem may be and potential solutions for your specific situation.

Featured image courtesy of Gabriel Tovar via Unsplash.com

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Meet Carol Williams, SDS Founder & Lead Strategist

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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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