The Need for Risk Storytellers

Posted by The Jacobson Group

As the business world adapts and flexes its collective muscle in the Age of COVID-19, there’s an increased focus on risk, data and communication. Chief risk officers and risk managers are emerging as in-demand and essential positions, and risk expertise is actively sought in the boardroom. Functions within the realm of risk management, such as data analytics, enterprise risk management and actuarial are also moving up many organizations’ “must have” priority lists.

Risk management was in high demand even prior to the pandemic, with cybersecurity being one of the most pressing concerns. In 2019, Deloitte’s annual risk management survey found 95 percent of financial institutions employed chief risk officers, a number that has increased through the years. Additionally, 83 percent of the survey respondents said they have an enterprise risk management program in place; 10 percentage points higher than in 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts financial managers, the category under which risk managers fall, will grow by 16 percent between 2018 and 2028, and that actuarial roles will increase by 20 percent within the same timeframe.

Especially in today’s turbulent times, strong human skills enable risk management professionals to thrive. The ability to tell a story around data and translate complex concepts to a variety of stakeholders is invaluable. Additionally, human skills are necessary for leaders to inspire and guide their teams as priorities and processes shift.Data-Storytellers3

Beyond Functional Skills
As the business climate continues to evolve, there are a number of non-functional skills that will set the most successful professionals apart. While strong math and analytical skills are of utmost importance, those within the risk management discipline must effectively convey numbers and insights in a way that inspires action. This includes understanding how information fits within an organization’s larger story and articulating the key details necessary to help companies and individuals get out ahead of risk. Storytelling has the potential to make information 22 times more memorable than if it were delivered as facts. By understanding an audience’s perspective and combining empathy with data, professionals can resonate with stakeholders on both a rational and emotional level.

Within leadership, the VUCA landscape has been a topic of conversation for some time; however, it’s never rang truer than now. Economic uncertainty, combined with new and existing modernization projects and enhanced automation, makes strong and empathetic leadership vital. Today’s risk management leaders must have the human skills necessary to confidently guide and inspire their teams in these Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous times.  

  • Vision – Embrace the vision of the organization and your department. Create clarity around your true north and what does and doesn’t align.
  • Understanding – Seek out and strive to understand alternative points of view, working to appreciate where individuals are coming from.
  • Courage – With constant shifts and new information, be able to boldly move forward in ambiguity.
  • Adaptability – Be flexible and agile and inspire it within your teams. Perhaps now more than ever this will set the great leaders apart.

It’s not just those in leadership roles who can benefit from sharpening their human skills. Even as restrictions lift, it’s likely remote work will continue in some form and present new challenges. Modernization projects will move forward, and existing processes will be overhauled as enhanced automation is adopted. Strong human skills are beneficial to all risk professionals as they navigate the shifting climate and hone their storytelling skills.TJJ-Risk-Storytellers-Blog-Quote

Communication: The ability to communicate clearly and concisely has always been important. Yet, in light of the pandemic, communication methods and channels are shifting. Professionals are demonstrating their abilities to translate technical concepts and engage an audience over email, phone and video conferencing.

Collaboration: The business community is coming together to share information and best practices. Additionally, many individuals may need to work across departments or reach out to experts outside of their organizations to gain input and expertise. 

Agility: There is no business as usual. Expectations, priorities and information are continuing to evolve. Risk management professionals must be nimble and able to quickly redirect their focus as needed.

Transparency: Especially in a virtual environment where impromptu conversations are less likely to take place, being candid and erring on the side of overcommunication is key. By being transparent, individuals can build and maintain the trust necessary for strong working relationships.

Empathy: Being able to connect with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders on a more personal level can build strong working foundations. This includes asking how people are doing before diving into business, along with assuming everyone has positive intentions.
If you are growing your risk management team, once you’ve confirmed candidates meet the technical requirements for the role, shift your focus to their human skills. Ask questions around how they solve problems and convey those solutions to stakeholders. Inquire about how they hone their communication and storytelling skills and how they’ve responded to any mishaps that have occurred as a result of miscommunication. How do they coach team members to use their critical thinking skills or respond to changing priorities? 

Being able to tell a story around data and effectively conveying information to leadership and other stakeholders will enable those within risk management to thrive. It’s important for leaders to develop their own skills, while also providing opportunities for other individuals to grow. By emphasizing human skills, teams will be best positioned to move forward and rise to future challenges.