Five Ways to Build the Risk-Takers in Your Business

CEO

Does the play-it-safe mentality run rampant in your organization?  Are the “innovative” ideas really just retreads of past decisions that led to lackluster results?

While it’s easy to blame individual leaders for their un-inspired initiatives, maybe there’s another culprit.  Maybe your business lacks a risk-taking mindset.

Too often in business, when leaders hear the word “risk,” they think it’s something to be managed or mitigated.  While there’s definitely times when this is true, there are other times when risk-taking needs to be embraced.  

These situations can include:

  • When a competitor is taking your market share with its new ad campaign and all the ideas your team is coming up with to counter it aren’t working
  • When your sales team’s tried and true game plan isn’t effective in building relationships with new clients entering the market
  • When employees leave because your total rewards package hasn’t had an overhaul in more than a decade

In any of the aforementioned scenarios, when business as usual isn’t effective, it’s time to take a risk.

When businesses start to flex their risk-taking muscle, it’s imperative that there are many – not just one – leaders in your organization who’re comfortable taking risks.  When all your leaders come together and align on what they’re going to do, collectively, to be competitive, the chance of success increases exponentially.    

No business wants to be caught off guard during the times when risk-taking is essential.  The good news is that there’s likely latent risk-taking ability in your organization right now.  It just needs to be developed and embraced.  

Here are five strategies you can put into place to build your organization’s risk-taking mindset:

  1. Reframe Risk.  Your organization might not be risk ready simply because they’re not looking at risk the right way.  Risk is often presented as if it’s the opposite of reward – Risk v. Reward.  In reality, risk is the pathway to reward.  Risk, in its truest light, is just a decision, followed by action, that leads you into uncertainty.  Leaders make decisions all of the time.  (In fact, even not making a decision is a decision!)  Knowing that your leaders take risks with their choices every day should give your leaders the courage to be a bit bolder with their choices, and more comfortable to sit in ambiguity, so that greater rewards are possible.
  2. Introduce Learning at All Levels … Fast.  During the pandemic, many businesses stalled on developing their talent.  Understandably so.  Many team members lacked capacity to take on more – whether that more was a virtual development course or an extra team-building activity.  If your business hasn’t resumed learning, start as soon as possible.  Learning builds curiosity; curiosity sparks fresh perspectives, which lead to new ideas and ways of working.  Learning doesn’t have to be expensive.  It can be as simple as a book club that’s leader-led in your organization.  It just needs to happen at every single employment level so individuals can start learning and applying new behaviors that lead to next-level success. 
  3. Start with the Safe Risks:  Risk is a muscle that takes time to build.  Start encouraging risk-taking in areas where missteps and mistakes aren’t going to be fatal or final.  These risk-taking attempts build self-reliance and self-confidence, which are important risk-taking companions.  As an example, if you’re interested in implementing a new performance management tool in your organization, pilot it with a small department first before cascading it throughout the organization so you can get feedback.  If a performance management tool fails, it might frustrate a few folks, but it’ll be a safe fail that teams can learn from.  Or, start encouraging more junior team members to lead meetings and presentations so they can build their executive presence skills.  One less-than-best meeting never hurt anyone and, besides, junior members get a little more grace when they stumble so their fails can likely be positive learning experiences.  Small risks, over time, lead to bigger risks.  And when it’s time for bigger risks, your teams will be ready.
  4. Reiterate that Risk Isn’t a Leap … It’s a Series of Steps.  You want your team to take responsible, not reckless, risks.  Responsible risks are well thought out, planned, benchmarked, and include both an artistic and scientific rigor that helps ensure they reflect sound judgments.  Decisions absent a strategy, or disconnected from results, aren’t the risks you want your teams to take.  Those risks lead to ruin.  Responsible risk-taking leads to results.
  5. Reward Risk and the Learning Acquired.  New behaviors take time to develop; the best way to support growth is to reward the learning throughout the journey (while not shaming and blaming the mistakes or the stumbles that happen inevitably along the way).  While consequence needs to happen for missed results, your business can do your team a great service by ensuring that it creates a safe place for imperfect performance.  So, when a project management team implements a process that causes more friction than expected, it’s important to pause and reflect to discuss what went wrong, and then get to the point where your team can discuss what was learned and what can be applied going forward.  

Risk-taking is a skill available for all, not just those team members who sky dive on weekends or swim with sharks when on vacation.  When you build the risk-taking mindset, you cultivate an organization that is more creative in identifying solutions, less hesitant in making decisions, and greater poised to deal with uncertainty and the fear associated with it.  Most importantly, you’re able to champion in a whole new era of greater success.


Written by Angie Morgan.
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