How to Improve Risk Management by Instilling Strong Values

Remember the infamous (and now humorous) Red Cross #gettinslizzard tweet from 2012? Quick recap: As detailed by Mashable’s Todd Wasserman, the organization’s social media specialist clicked “Send” on the wrong Twitter account, causing the well-reputed non-profit to tweet:

“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettinslizzard.”

Just a little off-brand, right? It’s no surprise to find out that Red Cross social media director Wendy Harman received calls late in the night about the tweet, which was live for an hour before Harman deleted it. She then tweeted the following from the @RedCross account:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

Dogfish Head, the company that produces the Midas Touch beer, not to be left out of the action, tweeted the following:

“RT @Michael_Hayek: #craftbeer @dogfishbeer fans, donate 2 @redcross 2day. Tweet with #gettinslizzerd. Donate here.”

The next day, the media celebrated the PR response as quick, light-hearted, effective and, ultimately, harmless. What could have been a much bigger deal ended up playing into the Red Cross’ favor:

  • No PR scandal (A big success)
  • Positive media attention (Coming from the PR world myself, I can tell you this coverage is priceless gold)
  • Possible donations to their cause, the ultimate measure of success for a non-profit

In fact, I’m a bit stunned at its success. On the surface, it may appear this was nothing more than a witty response to a slightly careless employee. But, as the Clinton campaign email media stories have indicated, PR is often a world of layers … lots and lots of layers of decision-makers, ranging from legal approval to branding approval to anyone with the ability to veto an idea.

This slows things way down, and it’s why I’m so impressed the scandal was avoided with such seeming ease.

How was the Red Cross able to avoid complexity in risk and respond quickly with a solution?

The Red Cross is a gigantic organization, and such largesse often breeds complexity. How, then, was the nonprofit able to circumvent this tedious process and move past the issue?

Harman tells Mashable that “We are an organization that deals with life-changing disasters and this wasn’t one of them. It was just a little mistake.”

Admittedly, this isn’t much to go on, but it does hint at a two key traits:

  • The Red Cross employees likely have a strong, universal understanding of its values and goals as an organization.
  • This knowledge empowered these employees to take charge quickly — and appropriately — in a risky situation. Harman, knowing that a rogue tweet didn’t have to impact the nonprofit’s mission in any meaningful way, was empowered to fix the problem and move on quickly.

It speaks to the power of employee engagement and strong understanding of company values in the face of risk-management.

How strong company values can reduce risk

Employee empowerment as a means to risk reduction is also covered by Harvard Business Review contributor Dante Disparte in his recent piece “Simple Ethics Rules for Better Risk Management.”

“Rather than countering complex risk with an even more complex risk-management system, which comes with its own blind spots and brittle places, leaders have to equip the individuals in their charge with common levels of risk awareness, codes of conduct, and value systems [emphasis added].

Basically, Disparte argues, a complex system will inevitably face risks that result from the intricacies of its moving parts. Instead of relying on a traditional method of risk-management — which would produce an equally complex system, itself threatened by risk — a leader’s response should be to empower his or her employees to mitigate risk in real time.

How does he or she do this? By clearly communicating shared values and goals.

Employee empowerment in action: Save time and headaches by giving employees more responsibility

Here’s an example:

In The Four Hour Workweek, time-management guru Tim Ferriss describes a nightmarishly-tedious process of managing a customer service team that needed his approval for every action. This resulted in more than 200 emails a day that took his time away from more valuable tasks like building his brand.

This would drive any leader mad, so what did he do about it? In response, Ferris decided to empower his employees by putting into practice a system that allowed customer service reps to handle any problem that cost less than $100 without his permission. Says Ferris:

“It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them. The first month cost perhaps $200 more than if I had been micromanaging. In the meantime, I saved more than 100 hours of my own time per month, customers receive faster service, returns dropped to less than 3% (the industry average is 10-15%).”

What would you do with 100 extra hours a month?

The key to employee empowerment: A strong understanding of company values

For either situation to work (the Red Cross and Ferriss’ customer service reps), you need to keep a few things in mind as a leader:

  1. It starts with you. “Attitudes toward risk are deeply informed by the tone, tenor, and remoteness of the top,” Disparte writes. “Leaders who practice what they preach, have conviction, and lead by example are better at managing risks than those that merely pay lip service to ethics, value systems, or codes of conduct.”If you haven’t taken the time as a leader to sit down and define your company values, you’re eliminating your ability to practice them at work. Also, you can’t expect to flaunt allegiance to these values and expect employees to follow along without showing your employees that you follow your values in the hard times as well as the easy times.

    Take note: Every decision you make as a leader communicates values. Make sure that they are the right ones.  

  2. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Ferriss employed one, simple rule: Problems less than $100 don’t need approval. Reportedly, Pizza Hut implements a similar rule by allowing employees to fix any problem that costs less than $15. Like the Red Cross, this has earned them plenty of positive media attention and increased customer satisfaction.If you’re unsure of how to communicate your values to your employees, Novareté can help. Our platform helps remove ambiguity around culture so that you can promote your vision to create stronger relationships, encourage team harmony, and boost overall performance.
  3. View employee empowerment as an essential strategy for success, not an obligation. “Complex risks are best addressed with simple measures,” writes Disparte. “Firms should not embrace ethical leadership or risk agility out of fear of failure or mere compliance. Risk agility is a source of lasting competitive advantage. After all, when the competitive landscape is littered with the tombstones of firms that failed to understand and respond assertively to risk, the ethical and agile enterprises will inherit the spoils.”In other words, don’t underestimate the importance of using company values to empower your employees. Culture matters, even if you manage a group of individual contractors. In fact, we have a whole list of benefits, ranging from reduced employee turnover to increased financial performance. Just one example: Organizations that manage the right culture factors proactively can expect to achieve a return on investment (profitability) three to four times higher than companies who do not, according to a Denison Research Notes 2012 report.

What about you? Have you checked the heart, pulse and flow of your company? If not, maybe it’s time. Time to create a company culture based around values, driving retention, and employee engagement.