Archive for October 2014

What CEO’s Think about Risk

October 30, 2014

In the book Streetlights and Shadows, Gary Klein describes three sorts of risk management.

  • Prioritize and Reduce – the system used by safety and (insurance) risk managers.  In this view of risk management, there is a five step process to
    1. Identify Risks
    2. Assess and Prioritize Risks
    3. Develop plans to mitigate the highest priority risks
    4. implement plans
    5. Track effectiveness of mitigations and adapt plans as necessary
  • Calculate and Decide – the system used by investors (and insurers) to develop multi scenario probability trees of potential outcomes and to select the options with the best risk reward relationship.
  • Anticipate and Adapt – the system preferred by CEO’s.  For potential courses of action, the worst case scenario will be assessed.  If the worst case is within acceptable limits, then the action will be considered for its benefits.  If the worst case is outside of acceptable limits, then consideration is given to management to reduce or eliminate the adverse outcomes.  If those outcomes cannot be brought within acceptable limits then the option is rejected.

Most ERM System are set up to support the first two ideas of Risk Management.

But if it is true that most CEO’s favor the Anticipate and Adapt approach, a total mismatch between what the CEO is thinking and what the ERM system is doing emerges.

It would not be difficult to develop an ERM system that matches with the Anticipate and Adapt approach, but most risk managers are not even thinking of that possibility.

Under that system of risk management, the task would be to look at a pair of values for every major activity.  That pair would be the planned profit and the worst case loss.  During the planning stage, the Risk Manager would then be tasked to find ways to reduce the worst case losses of potential plans in a reliable manner.  Once plans are chosen, the Risk Manager would be responsible to make sure that any of the planned actions do not exceed the worst case losses.

Thinking of risk management in this manner allows us to understand the the worst possible outcome for a risk manager would not be a loss from one of the planned activities of the firm, it would be a loss that is significantly in excess of the maximum loss that was contemplated at the time of the plan.  The excessive loss would be a signal that the Risk area is not a reliable provider of risk information for planning, decision making or execution of plans or all three.

This is an interesting line of reasoning and may be a better explanation for the way that risk managers are treated within organizations and especially why risk managers are sometimes fired after losses.  They may be losing their jobs, not because there is a loss, but because they were unable to warn management of the potential size of the loss.  It could well be that management would have made different plans if they had known in advance the potential magnitude of losses from one of their choices.

Or at least, that is the story that they believe about themselves after the excessive loss.

This suggests that risk managers need to be particular with risk evaluations.  Klein also mentions that executives are usually not particularly impressed with evaluations of frequency.  They most often want to focus on severity.

So whatever is believed about frequency, the risk manager needs to be careful with the assessment of worst case losses.

(A rerun of a previous post under a new name)

Advertisements

Transparency, Discipline and Allignment

October 27, 2014

Firms that have existed for any length of time are likely to have risk management.  Some of it was there from the start and the rest evolved in response to experiences.  Much of it is very efficient and effective while some of the risk management is lacking in either efficiency of effectiveness.  But some of the risk management that they might need is either missing or totally ineffective.  It is somewhat hard to know, because risk management is rarely a major subject of discussion at the firm.  Risk management happens in the background.  It may be done without thinking.  It may be done by people who do not know why they are doing it.  Some risks of the firm are very tightly controlled while others are not.  But the different treatment is not usually a conscious decision.  The importance of risk management differs greatly in the minds of different people in the firm and sometimes the actions taken to reduce risk actually work against the desired strategy of the firm.  The proponents of carefully managed risk may be thought of as the business prevention department and they are commonly found to be at war with the business expansion department.


 

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) is an approach to risk management that provides three key advantages over traditional, ad hoc, evolved risk management.  Those advantages are:

Transparency

Discipline

Alignment

ERM takes risk management out of the background and makes it an open and transparent primary activity of the firm.  ERM does not push any particular approach to risk, but it does promote openly discussing and deciding and documenting and communicating the approach to each major risk.  The risk appetite and tolerances are decided and spoken out loud and in advance in an ERM process, rather than in arrears (and after a major loss) as is more often the case with a traditional risk management program.

Transparency is like the math teacher you had in high school who insisted that you show your work.  Even if you were one of those super bright math geeks who could just do it all in your head and immediately write down the correct answer.  When you wrote down all of the steps, it was transparent to the math teacher that you really did know what you were doing.  Transparency means the same sort of thing with ERM.  It means showing your work.  If you do not like having to slow down and show your work, you will not like ERM.

ERM is based upon setting up formal risk control cycles.  A control cycle is a discipline for assuring that the risk controlling process takes place.  A discipline, in this context, is a repeatable process that if you consistently follow the process you can expect that the outcomes from that process will be more reliable and consistent.

A pick-up sports team may or may not have talent, but it is guaranteed not to have discipline.  A school team may have a little talent or a lot and some school teams have some discipline as well.  A professional sports team usually has plenty of talent.  Often professional teams also have some discipline.  The championship sports teams usually have a little more talent than most teams (it is extremely difficult in most sports to have lots more talent than average), but they usually have much more discipline than the teams in the lower half of the league.  Discipline allows the team to consistently get the best out of their most talented players.  Discipline in ERM means that the firm is more likely to be able to expect to have the risks that they want to have.

ERM is focused on Enterprise Risks.  In RISKVIEWS mind, Enterprise Risks are those risks that could result in losses that would require the firm to make major, unexpected changes to plans or that would disrupt the firm (without necessarily causing losses) in such a way that the firm cannot successfully execute the plans.  Enterprise Risks need to be a major consideration in setting plans.  Through discussions of Risk Appetite and Tolerance and returns for risks and the costs of risk mitigations, ERM provides a focus on alignment of the risk management with the strategic objectives of the firm.

To use another sports analogy, picture the football huddle where the quarterback says “ok.  Everyone run their favorite play!”  Without ERM, that is what is happening, at least regarding ERM at some companies.

Alignment feeds off of the Transparency of ERM and Discipline provides the payback for the Alignment.

Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty

October 20, 2014

The above is a part of the title of a World Bank report.  The full title of that report is

Investment Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty – Application to Climate Change

While that report focuses upon that one specific activity – Investing, and one area of deep uncertainty – Climate Change, there are some very interesting suggestions contained there that can be more broadly applied.

First, let’s look at the idea of Deep Uncertainty.  They define it as:

deep uncertainty is a situation in which analysts do not know or cannot agree on (1) models that relate key forces that shape the future, (2) probability distributions of key variables and parameters in these models, and/or (3) the value of alternative outcomes.

In 1973, Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, two Berkeley professors, published an article in Policy Sciences introducing the notion of “wicked” social problems. The article, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” named 10 properties that distinguished wicked problems from hard but ordinary problems.

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. It’s not possible to write a well-defined statement of the problem, as can be done with an ordinary problem.

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. You can tell when you’ve reached a solution with an ordinary problem. With a wicked problem, the search for solutions never stops.

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad. Ordinary problems have solutions that can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong. Choosing a solution to a wicked problem is largely a matter of judgment.

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. It’s possible to determine right away if a solution to an ordinary problem is working. But solutions to wicked problems generate unexpected consequences over time, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness.

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot” operation; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly. Solutions to ordinary problems can be easily tried and abandoned. With wicked problems, every implemented solution has consequences that cannot be undone.

6. Wicked problems do not have an exhaustively describable set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan. Ordinary problems come with a limited set of potential solutions, by contrast.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique. An ordinary problem belongs to a class of similar problems that are all solved in the same way. A wicked problem is substantially without precedent; experience does not help you address it.

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. While an ordinary problem is self-contained, a wicked problem is entwined with other problems. However, those problems don’t have one root cause.

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. A wicked problem involves many stakeholders, who all will have different ideas about what the problem really is and what its causes are.

10. The planner has no right to be wrong. Problem solvers dealing with a wicked issue are held liable for the consequences of any actions they take, because those actions will have such a large impact and are hard to justify.

These Wicked Problems sound very similar to Deep Uncertainty.

The World Bank report suggests that “Accepting uncertainty mandates a focus on robustness”.

A robust decision process implies the selection of a project or plan which meets its intended goals – e.g., increase access to safe water, reduce floods, upgrade slums, or many others– across a variety of plausible futures. As such, we first look at the vulnerabilities of a plan (or set of possible plans) to a field of possible variables. We then identify a set of plausible futures, incorporating sets of the variables examined, and evaluate the performance of each plan under each future. Finally, we can identify which plans are robust to the futures deemed likely or otherwise important to consider.

That sounds a lot like a risk management approach.  Taking your plans and looking at how your plans work under a range of scenarios.

This is a different approach from what business managers are trained to take.  And it is a clear example of the fundamental conflict between risk management thinking and the predominant thinking of company management.

What business managers are taught to do is to predict the most likely future scenario and to make plans that will maximize the results under that scenario.

And that approach makes sense when faced with a reliably predictable world.  But in those situations when you are faced with Deep Uncertainty or Wicked Problems, the Robust Approach should be the preferred approach.

Risk managers need to understand that businesses mainly need to apply the Robust/risk management techniques to these Wicked Problems and Deep Uncertainty.  It is a major waste of time to seek to apply the Robust Approach when the situation is not that extreme.  Risk managers need to develop skills and processes to identify these situations.  Risk managers need to “sell” this approach to top management.  Risks need to be divided into two classes – “normal” and “Deep Uncertain/Wicked” and the Robust Approach used for planning what to do regarding the business activities subject to that risk.  The Deep Uncertainty may not exist now, but the risk manager needs to have the credibility with top management when they bring their reasoning for identifying a new situation of Deep Uncertainty.


%d bloggers like this: