Magazine article Risk Management

Five Tips for Better Communication with Executives

Magazine article Risk Management

Five Tips for Better Communication with Executives

Article excerpt

"How do I get a seat at the executive table?"

This question is common among risk professionals who want to raise their personal profile and the stature of their departments. Risk professionals accumulate an extraordinary amount of knowledge about their organizations as they speak, coordinate and problem-solve with just about every branch of a company. Thus, risk professionals can provide critically important information to executive management and the board to help inform strategically important decisions--if they can find a way to be heard.

Make no mistake about it: Risk management's stature has grown markedly over the past decade. Many companies in the United States, the European Union and other jurisdictions are now required to have formal and documented risk management practices, while more and more organizations are adding chief risk officer positions.

But simple awareness of risk management has not yet translated into a complete understanding of what it can do. Executives tend to be risk-takers; they want to know how something will work, and often perceive that risk management's role is to tell them why it won't. Their job responsibilities mean they have limited bandwidth for risk management minutiae and, of course, their busy schedules mean they also have a very limited amount of time.

Adopting some key communication techniques can help risk managers bridge these gaps and become trusted partners. Several leading risk professionals who have secured seats at the table shared their advice on how others can do the same.



It may sound obvious, but many people simply do not adequately prepare for meetings with higher-ups. Coming across as ill-prepared is an easy way to be dismissed as irrelevant. Preparation is a no-brainer for important meetings such as quarterly board reporting or executive team debriefings. But you also need to carefully prepare for one-on-one meetings with executives as these are often where the most groundbreaking conversations happen.

Send the materials that you will be discussing via email a day or two before the meeting and have a clear agenda for the discussion. Even if it is only for your own reference, preparing an agenda will help you stay on track and guide the conversation appropriately.

"You have to make sure you frame the conversation well," said Jennifer Santiago, director of risk management at Novartis. "You need to focus with the end in mind as to what you want to accomplish. It is always best to frame it around business objectives as the backdrop to what you are looking to solve or change."

Be sure to spend ample time crafting background material, especially in the early stages of a relationship with executives. "You can't give people too much information," said Suzanne Christensen, treasurer and head of investor relations and risk at Invesco. "They need to home in on the key messages and key points. It takes time--there's brilliance in simplicity. You're not just going to be able to throw it together quickly."

Rob Gould, director of internal audit at Harley-Davidson, advocates a similar approach. "When we were starting out with ERM, we had more detail than we needed," he said. "We used to have more specific details on particular mitigation plans. It was too much information and too much to update. Executives are big-picture people, and they don't want to see all of the details."

Making sure to keep communication with executives simple and streamlined is critical. "So many companies make it too complicated and bureaucratic and it falls apart under its own weight," Gould said. "It really needs to be pragmatic. If you try to get fancy, it really doesn't bring the value. You need to produce insights and information that people can grab and run with."

It is important to remember that most executives want risk management to help guide them. …

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