Your biggest risks are in the corners

Your biggest risks aren’t usually the ones staring you in the face

The big ticket items – the ones that are at the top of everyone’s list, the first thing the CEO wants to talk about – aren’t usually the biggest risk you’re facing.

These might be the biggest threats.

These might reflect everyone’s biggest fear.

But because these are so well known. Because these get so much attention, you’re probably spending a lot of time and effort on these risks. The result is that these are closely monitored, well mitigated and heavily managed so the resultant risk is relatively benign.

Instead, your biggest risks are hiding in the corners.

No-one knows what’s in the corner

First, corner scenarios, the ‘edge cases’, are often overlooked because these seem too remote, too complicated or there simply isn’t the bandwidth left over once the big ticket items have been addressed.

So no-one looks in the corners and asks ‘what if…?’. No-one spends the time digging into these issues which might be less urgent, but are much more important. The result is that your biggest risk is hiding in the corner, overlooked and ignored. No-one knows it’s there.

But sometimes, everyone knows…

But there’s another reason that the corners are overlooked.

Because people know exactly what’s there.

The CEO’s wandering hands and excesses on the company dime; the regional manager whose success is based on bribes and backhanders; the lax accounting standards in one division; the unreported spills and accidents that go on in the field.

These are also hidden in the corners. These are corners that no-one talks about and where people know not to look. But everyone knows what’s there.

This isn’t accepting a risk. This is burying a risk.

But, as Colin Powell famously remarked, “Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.”

So simply ignoring these corners just makes for a bigger problem later on. And when these risks – the ones everyone knew about but overlooked – blow up and become full-blown crises you’re faced with a double problem.

First is the risk itself and the damage that causes. That obviously needs to be fixed.

But you also need to address the fact that you knew about the problem and did nothing. You lied and said everything was fine when you knew it wasn’t. And that reputational damage is much more difficult to recover from.

Check your corners

So whether you haven’t been able to find the time to look and don’t know what’s there.

Or you know exactly what’s there but have been scared to look.

Start looking in those corners.

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