Modifying Risk Behaviour with Change Management

Andrew McGregor ANDREW McGREGOR, Managing Director, Cohesion Ltd.

Have you found it hard to get commitment to risk management from your project team, sponsor, or other stakeholders? Project practitioners are naturally focused on delivery, and they prefer to think about their next deadline, instead of worrying about something that may never happen. Some project leaders resort to threatening their team into doing risk management (“Think what might happen if we don’t do it!”), or to bribing team members with promises (“Life will be so much easier if you succeed in managing your risks.”) There must be a better way to get people to change their behaviour and manage risk willingly.

Change management can help.

Among the many change management frameworks available, the ADKAR® Model from Prosci offers a structured way to encourage the behavioural change needed to engage project practitioners in risk management. ADKAR leads individuals through a process of Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement, and each step requires the completion of the steps before it. We can use ADKAR to help people adopt risk management in a way that is committed and effective, by following these five steps:

  • Awareness: Before people change their behaviour, they must understand the need for change. Why should we adopt risk management on our project? What would happen if we didn’t?
  • Desire: Having understood why change is necessary, people must develop the desire to own the change for themselves. Each person must see “What’s in it for me?” in a way that inspires them.
  • Knowledge: When people are excited about adopting risk management, they will then be receptive to training, and we must be careful not to provide risk management training too soon.
  • Ability: Like most things, the ability to manage risk comes from doing it in practice. We need to use our risk management knowledge on our projects, so that we develop the ability to apply it effectively.
  • Reinforcement: It is natural to slip back into the old way of doing things. Behavioural change requires regular reinforcement of each of the four previous steps to sustain risk management through the project. So we need to make sure that people remain aware of the importance of managing risk, and maintain their motivation to do it themselves, by refreshing their risk management knowledge and skills, and supporting their ability to use that knowledge in practice.

Several different project roles must support these steps along the way. For example, the project sponsor is vital in building awareness and desire, and then provides reinforcement for sustaining the risk process. The project manager ensures that each step forms part of the initial team-building as well as encouraging ongoing engagement throughout the project. The risk champion supports awareness-building while helping to develop ability and providing reinforcement.

If we can implement risk management well, we will realise the benefits of risk management faster. But this requires us to address team engagement and ensure that they are proficient in managing risk in the project. So next time you implement risk management in your business or project, consider using a formal change management framework to create behavioural change that will make the difference between success and failure.

It will work better than threats, and it is certainly cheaper than bribes.

Andrew McGregor, 2015

Andrew is the CEO of Cohesion, a consultancy based in South Africa. 

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