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Strategies for Managing Risk

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

Risk can be a difficult thing to manage in the workplace, especially if you're the type that frets over every possible detail that could go wrong when a new project crosses your desk. With all of the pressure surrounding us every day, it's no wonder that new projects (and new responsibilities) threaten to strangle us with "what if" scenarios. Several of my clients have come to me over the years claiming, "When things fall apart, so do I," and seeking out guidance to help them manage risk.

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The first step I take with them is to address their negative self-talk. For some of us, the horrible things we tell ourselves are so ingrained and automatic that we don't even realize we're doing it. To manage risk is to have faith in your abilities, and to have faith in your abilities is to drown out the nagging voice in your head that tells you you're going to fail, everything is going to go wrong, and the project is going to be an utter disaster. It's time to eliminate that voice, people! And I received some great advice from an expert on how to do it.

Recently, I attended a conference and was able to snag a few moments with one of the speakers, Steve Seibold. Steve is an expert on "mental toughness" and creator of an entire mental toughness university. To defeat negative self-talk, Steve repeats this mantra to himself: "I cannot fail. I can only learn and grow." True! We can't expect ourselves or our circumstances to be perfect all the time and to do so is to be constantly disappointed. As I've noted in previous articles, let go of perfection and embrace excellence. Once you can do that, you'll feel more comfortable with risk and any unforseen obstacles that pop up or mistakes that are made on the path to project success.

In addition to bolstering your own "mental toughness", there are a few concrete things you can do to help deal with risk. My favorite? STRATEGIES! Not just coming up with a single strategy to attack a project, but coming up with MULTIPLE strategies. Don't put all your project success eggs in the Plan A basket! Devise a Plan B and even a Plan C to fall back on in case Plan A is derailed. The more prepared you are to address various scenarios, the less stress you'll feel in dealing with the risks associated with your project. 

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Minimize the chance that a negative outcome will happen by making sure that you're the appropriate person to handle this project and that you have the proper skill sets to guarantee success. We're all looking to get ahead, and sometimes in our zeal to reach the top, we snatch at any projects that come our way, hoping for great exposure when they go well...and praying that they don't fall apart and leave us with bad publicity. If you find that you don't have the right skills and talents, either build a project team to assist you or have the courage to step aside. You'll save yourself the stress of scrambling to do things you don't know how to do, and you'll save the company time and money by letting qualified people efficiently handle the project. Now, if you're stressing over projects simply because you don't want to do them, I'm sorry to say but you're just going to have to buck up and do them if you want to get your paycheck and advance. We've all had to pay our dues! 

If you encounter a project that is particularly risky, don't keep it to yourself. Communicate potential risks to your boss, to your client, or to whoever you're delivering the project to. You shouldn't bother them with every little risk that could pop up, but if there are major risks involved, these people should know so you can all brainstorm ways to avoid them.

And finally, as I alluded to in the beginning of this article, believe in yourself and your abilities. Trust that you're going to outperform everyone else because that's why you have the job that you do and have been given this project.



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“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson