. Mindfulness and risk – a hidden relationship?

A few weeks ago RiskIQ hosted another of its free “Best Practice in Risk Management” lunchtime sessions in Brisbane.  The topic was Mindfulness in the workplace – what is it and how does it influence risk management?”  

At first, the link between the concept of mindfulness and our need to manage risks may not be obvious.  With the help of Kerry Azar (Kerry.Azar@HighPerformanceMinds.com) the links quickly became clear.  The underlying connection is that people who are distracted, unfocused or simply lack concentration will not make the best decisions or do the best work possible.

Using the RiskIQ definition of risk “a risk is any threat to the maximum possible achievement of our purpose”, it is clear that lack of mindfulness will almost always be a source of risk.  In the moment, someone who is not focused on what they need to be doing may cause an accident (a risk to safety).  In the longer term, a Chief Executive who is distracted by major operational issues may make errors of strategic judgement (a source of strategic risk).

In our lunchtime session, we also asked “so what?”  How should leaders and risk managers deal with this source of risk?  Our initial responses included:

  • Workplace Capability Development.  It is possible to educate and to train leaders and staff to understand the negative implications of not being focused.  They can also be trained and skilled to recognise this when it occurs, and can develop better mental habits so that they can remain mindful more of the time.  Done well, this will reduce lack of mindfulness as a source of risk.
  • Leadership Behaviours.  Leaders who behave in inconsistent, stressed or apparently random ways create churn and distraction for the people around them and reduce focus on the work that should be being done.  This means that mindfulness should be part of all leadership development and should be monitored as part of the performance of leaders.
  • Risk Language.  To often, sources of risk are not explicitly identified.  “Intangibles” such as lack of focus/mindfulness should be part of risk checklists and should be explicitly identified in risk registers when necessary.  Mindfulness is not easy to define and even harder to measure – but ignoring it is not a good answer when seeking to understand and manage risk.
  • Good Management Practice.  Good practice can help.  For example, before each meeting a short process of reflection can be used to check people in and to get their mind away from other topics.  Meeting discipline (e.g. rejecting red herring conversations) is also valuable.
  • Risk Management Disciplines.  In doing risk work (such as risk workshops) people should be focused on the purpose against which risks are being assessed and on the needs of the risk work being done.  Lack of mindfulness means that risks can be missed and other risks may be misunderstood or biased in their assessment.  Good risk work required mindfulness.

For more information on RiskIQ’s free lunchtime sessions or to find our more about its unique systems thinking approach to risk and to risk management, have a look at www.riskiq.com.au or contact Richard at rbarber@riskiq.com.au.