April 29, 2014


This article encapsulates the people and cultural aspect of risk management, the Cultural barriers to effective risk management and what mature organizations have done about it.
The ancient art form of Bharatnatyam talks about the navarasas and most dance recitals have a mix of one or more Navarasas. 
Below are some analogies and allusions to the Navarasas in relation to risk management:

  • Vīram (वीरं) Heroism – During the winning speech of the first ICC T20 World Cup final, the captain MS Dhoni described the dilemma he had to face when selecting the bowler of the last over. It was a do or die situation and one would have expected him to hand over the ball to the most experienced spinner. However he did the unexpected and took a risk by asking Jogendar Sharma to bowl. His bet paid off and the opponents were defeated.  The valiant captain had inspired his team and the bowler who used the opportunity to create a mark for himself.  This heroic risk taking will be celebrated in the records of T20 games.

  • Hāsyam (हास्यं) Comedy. It’s indeed amusing to hear the amount of excuses people give to escape from a candid discussion on challenges and risks of a project. When a meeting is set up, people try to avoid the same saying that they have a calendar clash, client visit is on, audit is happening. In extreme cases, people join calls and later disconnecting abruptly to later clarify that the signal dropped or that their mobile phones ran out of charge
  • Raudram (रौद्रं) Fury – This is the typical reaction of a project sponsor or client who comes to know that the project has gone awry. They are furious to know that the cost, quality or timeline will not be met and express their feelings either verbally or in writing. This situation also turns comical when the wrong person is blamed for the trouble or some unsuspecting person is caught in the cross-fire.

  • Kāruṇyam (कारुण्यं) Compassion – When you are in an extremely risky and intense project, the project manager and the senior leaders need to exhibit this emotion. Typically such projects are marked by long working hours, very less time for one self and a skewed work-life balance. Sensing the intense effort put in by the teams, senior leaders need to behave humanely and exhibit compassion. This could either be in the form of relaxing certain guidelines so that work-life balance is restored and there is a sense of win-win for employees and employers.

  • Bībhatsam (बीभत्सं) Disgust. Aversion is the way society and organizations should look at people who unnecessarily put others’ lives and careers at risk to safeguard or further their own interests. The financial and political scams depict some people artfully deceive the bells and whistles put in place.

  • Bhayānakam (भयानकं) Horror, Terror – When risks are not identified or managed appropriately, the nature of the outcome is disastrous. Take the example of Fukushima Nuclear reactor that was destroyed by the tsunami or the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The risks were present and could have been forecast if the modelling and honesty were in right measure. The horror of the aftermath is difficult to describe or overcome.

  • Śṛngāram (शृङ्गारं) Beauty – There is immense beauty in the innovative ways to overcome challenges and constraints. It is some of these innovative risk mitigation steps in troubled projects that help organizations in pushing the envelope. Beauty also lies in the character of organizations and people who share praise for the successful outcomes of risky projects with their team and contributors.

  • Adbhutam (अद्भुतं) Wonder – When the crisis is over and the risk has been overcome, the team is amazed at their own capability to have pushed themselves and their organizations to achieve the results. When at first they had encountered the problem, they would probably have thought that the challenges were in surmountable.

Effective risk management emanates from a comprehensive identification of risks and opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of the Cultural barriers to effective risk management.

  • Denial –Acknowledge the reality of risk is the first step to risk management and planning. Quite often managers substitute deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning. They would rather turn a blind eye when risks are highlighted. 
  • Lack of information – Risks cannot be uncovered when complete and accurate information is lacking. Typically when there is trouble or issue in some portion of a project, information suddenly goes missing and right information is very hard to get.
  • Absence of access – During risk audits, though auditors are given tomes of information to read through and analyses, critical information is typically withheld.  Quite often as preparation for the audit, real data and artifacts are swept under the carpet and “cleaned-up” versions are provided and access to right files and folders are surreptitiously withdrawn.
  • Hesitancy –The above action is perhaps due to an inherent bias for perfection and shyness to own up to some deficiencies either in the process or people. People perhaps fear that either they will be blamed for the risk or be asked to fix the problem! So they prefer to stay quiet and turn the other way.
  • “Who will help me??” – Sometimes risks are not identified because people fear that they may not be helped if risks are called out. There is a fear that they would be isolated as being “problematic” and fear ostracism instead of gaining emotional or operation support in overcoming the risks.

How do organizations tackle these problems?

  • Supportive and open risk culture – There is a stable delivery risk management process that supports the early and pro-active identification of risks. Thrust is more on aligning various entities of the organization together to resolve the problem than “witch-hunting”
  • Goal alignment – In order for people to receive help when they are faced with a lot of risk, there is alignment of risk related goals right up to the unit head and across some of the business enabling functions.
  • Accountability for decisions – People are held accountable for the opportunities they exploit as well as the risks they take. It is because of the positive reinforcement in risk taking that mature enterprises expand its operations to several countries 
  • Emotional maturity of risk consultants – The corporate risk team members are carefully selected to be placed in teams as consultants based on their ability to deal with tough situations, people and attitudes. They also have long term view of things and frequently come up with initiatives to either totally remove the root causes of risks or prevent them.
  • Forums to disclose – Risk profilers, status reporting, pro-active risk tagging and disclosure committees are present in multiple levels such as unit, account, project, program and country to aid the quick assessment and response planning to risks.

Though risk management can be reduced to a science with models and predictors, it definitely is an art to work with various cultures, attitudes and people to achieve success in highly risky or troubled ventures to achieve business growth.

This article was submitted by Srividhya who heads the risk practice of Retail, CPG Logistics & Life Sciences (RCL) and risk consulting for Infosys across the globe. She leads the PMO of Infosys Sholinganallur Development Centre and is certified PMP from Project Management Institute and also Infosys’ first PMI certified Risk Management Professional.
She positioned risk management practices favourably to CXOs of Infosys, influencing them to review their own risk management practices. She also kick started risk management services for Infosys Australia.
She has published an international award-winning paper on risk management and has presented her views to several corporate, national and international audiences. Her solution to mitigate business continuity risks in global supply chains has been published in the Infosys research journal and has filed a patent for an estimation model.

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