Driving in the Rain

How to Handle the Unpredictable (or Unpredicted) Through Effective Risk Management


“Can you hear me, that when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind?

— The Beatles, Rain


By Jason Rohlf

I remember a particular commute to work very clearly. It was raining that day with a gloomy gray tapestry of clouds hanging low in the sky. It felt very much like an official acknowledgement from Mother Nature that yet another change in season was upon us.

Having been born and bred in the Midwest, I am accustomed to these transitional phases. I know to anticipate the first heat wave, the first biting wind, the first snow and the first chilly rain of each new season. In this part of the country, abnormal weather is the norm. And yet you’ll always find people who gripe about seasonal changes. Hearing someone exclaim, “I can’t believe it’s so hot!” in July or “What do you mean they’re calling for snow?” in late November has always confounded me. Unless they were raised in the tropics (or on another planet), I don’t see how anyone can be shocked when the next weather pattern takes hold in the heartland.

Which brings me back to that early morning commute. To put it simply, the rain showers had an adverse impact on many people’s driving skills. What I saw ranged from overly hesitant lane changes and dangerous braking to inappropriate tailgating and herd-like behaviors. Perhaps it was just the weather that made these drivers to lose their wits. But I think it was really much more than that.

To understand why driving skills deteriorate when the rain falls, you need to compare a driver’s performance on a rainy day to that of a “normal” day—sunny, clear, good visibility, dry roads and the like. On “normal” days, driving can best be described as predictable. Sure, you have the occasional speed demon who suddenly realizes he’s about to miss his exit three lanes over, but for the most part normalcy reigns.

When I drove into work that day and saw how driving skills deteriorated with the changing weather, it reminded me of the core concepts of risk management. Most days are predictable—not much really “happens” from moment to moment. In one of my favorite books called The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald M. Weinberg, the author instructs his readers to close their eyes for one minute, re-open them and take note of what’s changed. Almost without fail, the answer is “not much if anything at all.” Many organizations operate under this mindset, mainly because it’s human nature to crave predictability.

But what happens when the unpredictable (or unpredicted) arises? The loss of a key customer, a financial reporting scandal, a major data breach, a tree falling and hitting an operating location, the death of an executive—they vary in terms of impact, likelihood and velocity but would all certainly impact the organization’s ability to operate with its desired sense of normalcy. There are many organizations that proactively prepare for the storms to come, but others are dangerously underprepared for the onset of calamity.

The good news is that organizations have a wide range of tools and resources that can help them enhance their risk readiness. One of the most well-known and widely accepted guidelines for risk management is ISO 31000:2009. Several other industry, process and discipline-centric resources can help organizations get a handle on the unknowns that threaten their ability to accomplish their most critical objectives. You’ll also find an array of risk management technologies that enable documentation, scoring, monitoring and reporting. At Onspring, we regularly lend our experience to organizations as they look to understand and navigate their evolving risk landscape.

One thing is certain: the unexpected will occur. Storms will pop up and our skills and coping mechanisms will be tested. Organizations must identify where they are exposed, apply an appropriate response for addressing the risk, and implement a mechanism to constantly monitor and reassess the risk and their response to it. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck by the side of the road in a driving rain.

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