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3 Ways to Manage Risk in Government

Last week I spoke to the ACT/IAC Voyagers program – a leadership program of ~25 government IT leaders.

The topic was on managing one’s career and taking risk.

At the event, I received a number of questions about risk:

-When do you know when to take a risk? When to stop?
-Are you ever afraid when taking a risk?

-What’s the risk of not taking a risk?

-How do you take risks when the culture of government is not set up for risk taking?

My three tips were:

1) In long-run, you don’t want to be in bonds. The risk of not taking risks is the risk of being in bonds instead of stocks for 50 years. In long term on average, your net worth will be much higher if in index funds over a long time. Same with your career – be in stocks

2) If you aren’t nervous, it’s not worth doing. Everything I’ve done that I look back and am proud of…I was nervous at the time. And no, it never fully goes away. I’ve heard famous singers say they still get nervous every time they go on stage and worry about failing. That nervous worry is probably why they don’t fail

3) Listen to your gut – You know when to take a risk when it is something your gut tells you to do. If you truly think it is that good of an idea and it is circling in your brain for days and weeks, then you should do it. If you think it’s a good day right after a fight or frustrating event at work, wait a little bit to settle down

How do you manage risk?

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Profile Photo Ebony Scurry, PHR, GCDF-I

You’re 3 tips are clever and well articulated. It makes it much easier to remember and apply them. I particularly like the analogy you made between thinking of managing your career like managing a financial portfolio; wanting to be in stocks, not bonds. Loved that!

~ Ebony

~ Ebony

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Profile Photo Kathleen Smith

I like the listening to your gut. That has always served me or I just ate something bad at lunch. Also the being nervous is a good sign – we don’t like being out of our comfort zones and that creates a lot of nervousness.

The challenge for most is being comfortable with failure and being in a work environment that allows some failures. Taking a risk means that you will win, lose or maybe stay the same, but personally and professionally we are told we always have to win. We incent ourselves and our employees on success without understanding that there are many lessons to learn from a mistake which will eventually make us stronger, wiser and more successful.

How do we do this in government?

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

Consult your inner circle, but don’t just take their word for it. If after careful consideration you still feel in your gut that it’s the right decision, you’ve gotta go for it.

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Profile Photo Josh Nankivel

I’ll add that taking small risks and failing fast is the best risk management strategy around. I identify strongly with the Lean Startup concept of validated learning, and I think every project is just like a startup. Especially in the beginning, validated learning is much more important than just cranking out a product for the sake of it.

Too many project managers create their own large risk of producing a product no one will use because they are trying to avoid the small risks and are afraid to make mistakes to learn from.

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Profile Photo Lori Zipes

I’ll also add, with regard to career risks – don’t feel like your decision is final. Recognize that you can always leave a position if it s not working out. Admittedly, some are harder to leave than others, but still, you can always get out. I’ve been in a few that I realized were not for me, and eventually I moved out of them. (Check this other blog out: Demoting Yourself) I still value the experience I had while in them. One was particularly eye-opening and shapes the way I work almost every day. Take the chance.

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Profile Photo Darrell Van Horn

If you are managing risk carefully one must provide solutions approach to the risk, having said that, two idea’s comes to mind. risk plans that are built in and breaking the risk up into smaller more manageable pieces. this way the risk is mitigated and the schedule and cost are not effected.

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

Reading this again it reminds me of myself a couple of months ago when getting ready to join the GovLoop team! I would also say to strongly consider whether or not it’s something that you’ll regret not doing. Is it your one shot, or will there be another time when you are more ready?

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Profile Photo Mark Forman

any whistleblowers out there that can share their experiences?

a couple of thoughts to those of you having questions about how much risk to take. we are about to have big changes in political appointees, and the magnitude of change should become clearer as we reach November. back at the beginning of the Bush Administration, we made a key personnel decision in creating the President’s E-government task force. Often, strategic initiatives are staffed by political appointees with a token one or two career folks. We decided that our effort was about transforming government, as was the National Performance Review in the Clinton Administration, and therefore we needed to staff the task force with career folks that had battlescares from a strategic change initative that they had driven. We knew that there were many reformers, some who had been moved to the hinterlands for trying to make a difference and some who had tremendous success. We wanted both, and used the politicos to help actively find and recruit reformers. Also, fed should be aware that folks at OMB have great networks and know who are the career folks that are trying to make a difference, especially if the reformer gets beaten up. Hill staff often know that as well. So, taking a risk and getting beaten up for trying to make things better may be a tempory set-back…just make sure your attempts are recognized by folks at OMB or in the office of your members of Congress. If it all works out, you and your bosses will look great. If the change is killed by your supervisors (as is usually the case in business and govt — see Kotter’s book on Leading Change), you will be a change agent in waiting for when the new guys show up and want to make change.

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