Looking at Risk Management through a different Lens

January 15, 2014

Kate Dorrity
Assistant Director — Risk and Facilities Management
Purdue University, Division of Recreational Sports

Welcome back! It’s back to the beginning for all of us – the beginning of the school year and of the programs we spent the summer preparing. We’re moving from the planning (and relatively student-less) phase of our work into implementation and evaluation. It’s time to see if our planning generates tangible results.

We all evaluate our programs, right? We look at participation numbers, satisfaction levels, budget changes… the list seems endless sometimes. But it is through that evaluation that a program grows and becomes the best it can be.

It’s time to take that same approach to risk management. As you begin the implementation phase of your programming, be aware of the ways in which risk management plays a part in your organization. Step back, take out your wide-angle lens, and look at the big picture:

– Are there consistent risk management procedures and training across program areas?
– Are there opportunities for staff to bring up safety concerns and discuss possible solutions?
– Are industry trends and hot topics being considered at the department level?
– Is risk management the responsibility of individual program areas or is there an organization-wide strategy?
– How can we better serve our participants and staff to ensure their safety and security?

It’s that last question that I find most powerful. In fact, I spent all summer thinking about it. Am I fully utilizing my resources, both internally and externally? Am I adequately preparing my staff to mitigate risk? Am I doing everything that I can?

The truth is, there is always something we can do better. We encourage our students to strive for excellence, to continue their education and professional growth even after graduation. We must do the same with our risk management procedures.

The first step along the path to excellence is to analyze current conditions. Where are we now in relation to where we want to be? What are we already doing well and where can we improve?

The SWOT matrix is a great tool for identifying a program’s current climate. By identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, we get a clear picture of both the internal and external variables impacting the program.

In the case of our organization, I found that our greatest weakness could be balanced by my own greatest strength. We cannot know everything, and this limits our effectiveness. However, I am a great researcher. Looking at these statements side-by-side helped me to discover our greatest opportunity: to utilize our widely skilled and experienced staff to generate cross-discipline research and ideas. By coming together and brainstorming, we can find ways to combat the threats (both tangible and abstract) that pose an imminent danger to our facilities and programs.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Defining the role of a risk management program in your organization is certainly important. However, it is how you implement your program that directly leads to its success. A flawless program is useless if only half of the organization is on board. Implementation varies across the board, but is most often the responsibility of a Risk Manager or Risk Management Committee.

At Purdue University, we are exploring the idea of incorporating both the Risk Manager and the Risk Management Committee into our program. The synergistic relationship created between a Risk Manager and the Risk Management Committee may be the stepping-stone we need to pursue our vision. Risk management cannot be the sole responsibility of one individual; everyone must be held accountable. Effective risk management cannot be done from behind one desk in the office; it must be a team effort. The old adage “Two heads are better than one,” is certainly true. For us, eight heads are better than one. Here’s a brief look at our strategy:

The Risk Management committee will act as an advisory council, assembled to discuss risks and industry trends, consider alternative courses of action, and make recommendations to the Risk Manager and/or Director. The Committee comes together as a diverse staff, pulling from their individual experiences, to focus on actions that are in the best interest of the Division as a whole. As a whole, the Committee will discuss big picture issues like staff development, facility and program audits, mock drills, and industry trends. The Committee will include a mix of administrative professionals, student staff, and service team members.

This is our platform to bring all of our players to the table to express their views and take ownership of the risk management process. As the Risk Manager, it is my role to sort through all of the information, ideas and research generated by the Committee to formulate an effective risk management plan. I am responsible for the action items but rely on the Committee members to assist in evaluation and edits. As these plans and policies are pieced together, I present that information to senior management for consideration (and occasionally approval). Ultimately, I am the enforcer of our plan. I work with the managers to ensure we meet deadlines and expectations and offer assistance when needed.

Our new Risk Committee is another new beginning for us. We’re just getting started and hope to do some amazing things in the semester to come. It’s great to say “Here’s what we are going to do.” It’s another to actually do it. We’ll keep you posted on progress made and lessons learned. Wish us luck!

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