Why is Managing People Risk so Difficult?

No Change can Take Place Without People.

In every strategic change, it’s people that both influence the outcome and respond to the impact. Working in the field of people focussed consulting, we have found human factors are at the core of and contribute heavily to risks on change initiatives. These risks are related to how well people adopt and adapt to target environments. We are able to see a direct correlation between successful organizational change management efforts and realization of desired benefits, and the reverse where a lack of attention to people factors leads to falling short of objectives.

It is therefore critical that we pay a great deal of attention to anticipating and mitigating risk related to people. If these risks are not managed well they can make the difference between success and failure.

When it comes to people, even though most organizations understand the importance of this effort, they fall short in executing sound risk management. In order to explore why that is, let’s examine some common risks:

  • Unpredictability of human beings: we cannot anticipate how people are going to react, resistance or support that will happen when we execute change
  • Cultural shifts: that require significant mindset, priority and approach changes from the population expected to make that change – often against their fundamental beliefs
  • Inertia: underestimating the resistance from individuals or groups of people; Neuroscience tells us people’s first reaction to change is to resist it – and hoping if ignored, that it might go away
  • Leadership: inexperienced change leaders who themselves have to adopt and adapt to the change and then lead an organization pose a risk
  • Complexity: the more transformational the change, the higher the impact on people – increasing the risk severity
  • Uncertainty: a great deal of uncertainty results from change, often leading to fear and high levels of attrition

Armed with best intentions and knowledge, we are still not effective in managing these risks effectively. Why is that?

Most impactful and unique challenges in managing people risk can be attributed to:

  1. Uncertainty and unpredictability of human nature: If we are unable to ‘predict’ how individuals and groups are going to react not only to the change but also to OCM activities – it’s difficult to create solutions that will hit the perfect chord
  2. Each individual is different: and reacts differently to change. It’s neither practical or possible to devise individual solutions to match individual risks; some will respond better to logic and some to emotion. Strategies for risk mitigation have to consider where best to focus efforts that will give the best results
  3. Discomfort with expressing vulnerability: individuals, particularly those at senior levels, are uncomfortable expressing any vulnerability – lack of knowledge, lack of buy-in, lack of ability. If they don’t disclose these risks it’s likely that we won’t be able to address them
  4. Fear: fear of recrimination if someone points out a problem, or voices opposition, will lead to important risks being hidden and therefore not addressed

Addressing people risks effectively is a critical success factor in strategic initiatives. By their very nature these risks are complex and mitigating them successfully is extremely difficult.

We leave you with some important points to consider:

  • Continuous care and attention to people risks is extremely important
  • In order to be effective, we need to stay away from broad-brush approaches and be more targeted
  • By engaging impacted people in crafting risk mitigation strategies we significantly increase the efficacy of our actions


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