3 Examples to Make Risk Management More Approachable and Fun

If there’s one pithy quote or proverb that sums up the subject of today’s article, it’s this – “variety is the spice of life.”

In thinking about the deeper meaning behind this, it’s not hard to see how it has survived since first coined in the 1785 poem The Task by William Cowper.

While we crave familiarity and can easily become creatures of habit, we also have an innate tendency to want to shake things up from time to time, whether that’s where we choose to vacation, go out to eat, the cars we drive, and so on. After all, if we’re not careful, we can fall victim to another proverb, this time “familiarity breeds contempt.”

Presentations, workshops, and one-on-one meetings about risk can certainly do this…

In fact, I would say that it is our responsibility as ERM practitioners to make risk engaging, fun, and approachable because neglecting to do so will eventually breed contempt or indifference throughout the organization. After all, this particular function is already swimming against the tide, with many seeing it as a check-the-box activity with little value for helping the company accomplish its strategic goals.

There are several things we’ve discussed previous articles on how risk professionals like you can improve ERM’s reputation and ensure management is actively engaged in your program or efforts.

Another tactic for keeping engagement levels high is putting a little variety into the day-to-day practices, whether it is the meeting format, how you run a workshop, or how you otherwise communicate to others. Think about it this way – packing the same food in your child’s lunch day after day will get boring for them after a while. (Trust me, I know…I still can’t eat raisins after too many boxes of raisins in elementary school.) Why wouldn’t meeting materials and workshops be the same?

Here are 3 ways, grouped into three broad categories, I’ve shaken things up a bit over the course of being an ERM practitioner and consultant.


Visual Aids

When it comes to risk assessment results, using a 1-5 scale or color-coding may be the most common. Our recent article on the color coding of heat maps (i.e., red, amber, green) documented its shortcomings from a practical point-of-view, but one thing we didn’t mention is that it can get BORING after a while.  Rather than these mundane numbers and colors year after year, why not use a sliding scale of emojis instead? A face with a could denote a risk within tolerance, followed by for risks at tolerance, if slightly above tolerance, and finishing up with to denote risks significantly exceeding tolerance.



Another visual aid to help make risk management more engaging or fun is to use symbols like a calendar to denote a future task or a green clock to denote something is on schedule. If the mitigation or task falls behind schedule, the clock can easily be changed to red.


Terminology & Question Structure

Another way to mix things up and make risk management more approachable is something we’ve discussed in a previous article. Instead of using risk terminology to describe the status of something, see how you can integrate the same language the business uses into assessments, meetings, workshops, and so on.

Hans Læssøe elaborates on this point in an article on the future of risk management where he states:


Start learning, if you have not done so already, the language of the business. Measure (risk) in terms of business performance metrics and replace impact, likelihood, velocity, vulnerability, etc. with net present value, profit, return on sales, or whatever performance parameter the company is using.

One place where this can be especially impactful is how questions are phrased. Not only do you want to use terminology people will readily relate to, you want to ask questions in a very non-threatening way. Instead of asking “How are you going to accomplish X?” (this comes across as very confrontational – not good), you could say “What has to go right for us to achieve this?”

Asking questions this way makes risk more approachable. Remember, as ERM professionals, we’re not there to “push” a certain way or boss the company around, but rather to work alongside the business to help it achieve its goals.

Movement & Extras for Maintaining Engagement

The last general area you can put a little variety into risk management is to get people moving around a little. After all, studies have shown that movement helps keep the brain engaged and energy flowing.

One place where this works particularly well is with workshops.

For example, during a brainstorming session on a given topic (keeping it focused on a strategic objective, business objective, or project), it’s always preferable to have the business sort and categorize the ideas. To do this, I would give them Post-It notes and then have them get up and walk them over to giant white papers on the wall.

Another tactic is breaking people into working groups. Then you can have them move around the room during sessions or even migrate between different rooms in the building. I was recently facilitating a workshop and had people scattered in 3 different rooms; once the groups were finished, everyone gathered and walked between the three rooms, where the assigned group could present their ideas to the others and answer questions.

Besides movement, another tactic for maintaining engagement is to provide fidget spinners, animal eraser puzzles, or those mesh bags with marbles inside.  It’s amazing the “a-ha” moments and robust discussions that can happen when someone has one of those fidget spinners! Just beware that you don’t want the cheap noisy ones…I have found that the options linked here work pretty well. (I do not get paid for any purchases made using these links.)

Also, for those workshops where you have remote participants, those fidget spinners and other items, like hard candy, ship well…because you need to treat remote participants as if they are in the room too!

Using these tactics and others to make risk management more engaging and fun should hopefully show participants that people are people, no matter their title. It should also demonstrate that risk discussions don’t have to be tortuous.

However, all of this should be done with one understanding – there’s a line between fun, engaging, approachable, and silliness that must be respected.

You don’t want to come across as someone who isn’t serious. However, with a few tweaks and a little experimentation, you can make workshops, surveys, and one-on-one meetings a pleasurable experience for not just them, but you as well.

What tactics, if any, have you used to make risk management more approachable and fun?

I invite you to leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

And if you’re struggling with ways to improve ERM engagement, please reach out today to discuss your current situation and potential paths forward.

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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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