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Setting the right tone – your risk depends on it

We’ve all seen impressive leadership in action – and the lack of it – and the huge difference in outcomes that result.

The importance of the right tone coming from the top has a large bearing on risk culture and how successful an organisation is at managing risk.

On 16 October, in Amasra, Turkey, an explosion occurred in a coal mine claiming 41 lives. ‘Firedamp’ – a build-up of flammable gas (typically methane) – has initially been suggested as the immediate cause of the disaster.

The accepted best practice response by most crisis communicators is that the first priority must be to assess the situation and to assist the people involved. A thorough Investigation (structured and impartial) and appropriate remedial actions can follow.

In this case, the Country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, put out the following statements the day after:

  • “fate” was ultimately responsible for the deadly incident

  • “the administrative and judicial investigation will reveal what caused the blast and who, if anyone, is responsible”

These comments might be cast against the emotion of the moment and the translated English may not help. From a Risk Management perspective however, the impact of such a response is:

  • events like this are seen as something that just happens, rather than being preventable

  • people are too scared to put their hands up to discuss what went wrong, for fear of being implicated and ‘found guilty’

  • the kind of risk culture this breeds is one where proactive risk management is not valued

Granted this is an extreme example, but several recent incidents closer to home, involving data breaches, show organisations could do more to focus on the people who have been impacted. They could also do more to assist creating a blame-free culture that encourages the open sharing of potential risks and working together to prevent incidents happening / minimising their impacts.

ABM Risk Partnership sees “Tone at the Top” as a critical success factor in good business, and in risk and safety management. With a prevention lens, the enlightened leader looks to understand business processes and identify opportunities for improvement. During the post event investigation phase, the right tone is about supporting employees to find out what went wrong, so improvements can be made without blame or witch hunts. The aviation industry is particularly good at blame-free investigations.

Effective “Tone at the Top” provides key elements, such as regular and clear communications with team members, training, engagement and involvement in the risk management process with a solid linking to strategic planning activities – all adding up to consistent, risk-based decision making.

We typically incorporate “Tone at the Top” as a component of discussions on the importance of risk culture. With the recent crop of examples, we are increasing the profile of tone as an important aspect of capability, effectiveness and maturity alongside risk management framework development.

We would love to hear your examples of how good or bad “Tone at the Top” has influenced Risk Management.


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