The Ultimate Risk Management Guide: Everything You Need to Know

the ultimate risk management guide everything you need to knowWhat’s the worst that could happen? Risk management is one of the first things you should be thinking about when planning for pretty much anything in your business.

The truth is, risk inescapable; success of your business is not determined by your ability to avoid risk, rather by your ability to accept, plan for, and take advantage of the varying outcomes risk might present to you.

It might sound negative, but risk management is actually more optimistic than it seems.

The key takeaway is that successful risk management strategies are proactive, as opposed to reactive.

By thinking ahead, you can prepare for and prevent risks before they even have a chance to arise.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can use Process Street to streamline and automate your risk management approach, including:

Hopefully by the end of it, you’ll have a better understanding of how to focus your risk management efforts into a forward-facing, proactive approach.

There are lots of ways to approach and prepare for risk, and this article will give you the tools you need to master risk management.

Getting started with risk management

First, a quick definition of risk management by a respected international standards body:

“…[the] systematic application of policies, procedures and practices to the activities of communicating and consulting, establishing the context and assessing, treating, monitoring, reviewing, recording and reporting risk.” ISO 31000 – Risk Management Guidelines

So, risk management is just acknowledging that risk happens, and taking measures to ensure you’re completely prepared for it.

Fundamentally, it’s a management strategy similar to business process management, or other management systems like quality or environmental management.

There are many ways to successfully implement risk management; the goals of any risk management program centre around the idea of identifying, understanding, and preparing for all kinds of potential dangers, hazards and eventualities that deviate from the expected outcome or result of business operations.

Simply put, it’s anything that’s not part of the standard operating procedure.

One of the most important ideas of successful risk management systems is the focus on proactive management of risk.

Proactive versus reactive risk management

Proactive (or simply “active”) risk management is defined by the preemptive nature of the process.

It doesn’t just seek to mitigate known risks; it is a future-facing process that seeks to enforce a kind of quality management framework in order to mitigate risks both known and unknown, and ensure that there is as great an effort as possible toward the prevention of risks of all nature.

Reactive risk management is at the mercy of the unknown; businesses that aren’t proactive will be lost in the constant battle against risks they haven’t adequately prepared for.

Proactive risk management is essential to any successful risk management program.

Enterprise risk management

Enterprise risk management is a flavor of risk management that differs in a few of its key principles.

In practice many ideas are similar; the chief difference lies in ERM’s focus on how risk affects business goals and outcomes. This is similar to the approach of the ISO 31000 standard for risk management guidelines.

Traditional risk management is less concerned with high-level ideas like business goals and outcomes, and simply seeks to identify, quantify, and rank risks in order of priority, by looking at the calculated numeric values for probability of risk occurring, and the severity of the outcome, should the risk occur.

This quote nicely summarizes key ideas of enterprise risk management:

“The culture, capabilities, and practices, integrated with strategy-setting and performance, that organizations rely on to manage risk in creating, preserving, and realizing value.” – The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), from Enterprise Risk Management – Integrating with Strategy and Performance

Common risk management misconceptions

Despite the prevalence of risk management in business process management approaches, there is a tendency to see risk management as a focus on the negative outcome or potential of a business.

In reality, that’s not the case – risk management is a practice that depends equally on the ability to recognize and make the most of the positive, opportunistic side of risk.

Risk: It’s not all bad

risk management misconceptionsWhile it’s true that risk is, by definition, associated with negative outcome, the point of risk management is to recognize the opportunity in such situations for capitalizing on hidden or less-than-obvious potential.

That might mean choosing the lesser of two evils, or it might mean understanding that risk can sometimes be necessary for performance gains.

In line with principles of continuous improvement, risk management is an ongoing process that does not simply stop and start with a single SWOT analysis or a couple of board meetings. Rather, risk management is a framework that seeks to constantly tweak, refine, and optimize a business and its processes.

When it comes to risk management, there’s always room for improvement.

Risk management standards

There are a number of risk management standards designed to consolidate best practice principles and help to streamline and improve risk management implementations for businesses.

Another factor driving the standardization of risk management frameworks has been the increased scrutiny that organizations must face with regard to their risk management systems.

Risk management systems are often required to stand up to rigorous internal audits and assessments, in order to prove that they are effective in their implementation, and that they are in line with company goals and objectives.

The family of risk management standards defined by ISO 31000 is one such example of a leading international standardization of a risk management approach.

ISO 31000/31010

risk management iso 31000ISO refers to the International Organization for Standardization; the 31000 part refers to a family of standards for risk management.

As well as being an umbrella term for a bunch of different standards, ISO 31000 also refers to a singular standard, specifically known as ISO 31000:2018.

This standard defines a set of guidelines for managing risk, designed to be used by organizations of any size, working in any area, to implement effective risk management systems.

Unlike many other ISO standards like 9001 for quality management, or 14001 for environmental management, ISO 31000 is a set of guidelines. That means you can’t get an ISO 31000 certification in the same way you could for other standards with specific requirements.

Nonetheless, ISO 31000 is a leading framework for organizations seeking to get started with risk management.

Check out our post on ISO 31000 for a deep dive into the standard.

Risk management process

risk management processRisk management can be simplified into a process with clear steps, namely:

  1. Risk management objectives
  2. Risk identification
  3. Risk assessment
  4. Risk response
  5. Risk monitoring

1. Setting and aligning your risk management objectives

Risk management starts with setting clear objectives, and making sure those objectives are aligned with business strategies.

After all, what’s the point of risk management if not to help your business succeed in hitting objectives?

Focusing on risk management alone will not help you hit business objectives; rather, the results of a well implemented risk management system will be invaluable for helping you understand how to approach and exceed existing business goals.

Risk management can help businesses align their objectives with a well-defined mission statement, forward-facing vision, and core company values and culture.

2. Identification and documentation of risks

Risks are essentially anything that might stop your business from achieving goals. That includes larger, severely high-risk concerns, but also smaller, seemingly insignificant risks on the level of process or individual projects.

In any case, all risks should be identified and recorded clearly and thoroughly.
Process Street uses rich form fields to record detailed information and media during a process. You won’t have to worry about misplacing or lacking for information when you build and run a process with Process Street.

But more on that later, when I show you the risk management process built specially for you in Process Street (and it’s completely free).

3. Assessment of documented risks

Once risks are recorded, they have to be assessed in order to determine severity and priority.

This is essential for understanding the impact of risk on business goals and objectives, as well as how likely it is the risks could happen, and when.

Some risks, like natural disasters or political unrest, are difficult or impossible to predict. That doesn’t change the fact that risk assessment must always be performed to the best of the organization’s ability, by all departments.

Assessing risks is also important for making sure that the risks that are being recorded are actually credible. This is the time when scrutiny can be applied, and methods of qualitative and predictive analysis can be used to better understand which risks should be taken most seriously.

For example, during the risk assessment phase, a prioritization matrix might be used to order risks by significance.

The goal of risk analysis is to help top management understand where to focus their most immediate attention.

4. Risk response

Also known as risk treatment, this stage is focused on responding to the highest priority risks.

The main approaches to risk response are:

  • Avoidance
  • Acceptance (or retaining)
  • Mitigation (or reduction)
  • Transference (or sharing)

Each of these are covered in more detail in the section on risk management principles later on in the article.

It’s management’s job to decide which risks are highest priority, and to figure out an appropriate risk response strategy.

In keeping with the general risk management approach, risk response strategies should be considered in terms of the given risk’s impact on business goals and objectives, as well as the overall costs weighed against benefits for each proposed strategy.

5. Risk monitoring

The final stage represents the cyclic nature of risk management, because, like continuous improvement, the monitoring of risks is an ongoing process that never truly ends.

Contexts of organizations and their risks are constantly shifting and changing, so it makes sense that risks should constantly require monitoring to make sure things aren’t slipping out of hand, and that the organization can rest assured that the significance of each risk is properly understood.

Key principles of risk management

principles of risk managementThese principles each represent a different type of risk response. After risk has been identified, the following strategies for risk treatment can be considered:

Risk avoidance

Somewhat self explanatory, this strategy is focused on carefully planning so that certain risk potentials are completely (or at least, as completely as possible) removed from the operating procedures of a business.

This approach assumes that a perceived risk event or factor can be removed from the business strategies in order to avoid the consequences of said outcome.

Risk reduction

When a risk factor or event cannot be excluded completely, a company may try to reduce the effect of that risk by tweaking and adjusting certain aspects of operations.

The difference between risk reduction and risk avoidance is that risk reduction accepts that the risk cannot be completely avoided.

Risk sharing

Risk sharing involves splitting the damage of a perceived risk, either between different departments of an organization, different participants of a project, or even external stakeholders like business partners or investors.

Risk retaining

Retaining risk is the decision that a risk is actually worth the perceived damage or effect, from a business standpoint.

This means the organization will have to make adequate plans to deal with the eventuality of damage incurred by the risk.

A simple way of understanding risk retention from a business standpoint is to imagine a situation where a company’s expected profit is larger than the sum of the perceived risk potential. In this case, it’s logical to see why a business might choose to accept and retain a degree of risk.

Benefits of risk management

So what makes risk management so appealing? Why are so many people interested in using risk management in their business?

Risk management can increase productivity

No matter what industry you’re in, or what kind of product or service you’re selling, you can always quantify your productivity to some degree. Productivity is always tied to your process. What risk management allows you to do is look at your process and figure out ways to improve the way you get work done.

Not only will his help you optimize for higher productivity, it also means your work environment will be safer because you’ve lowered the amount of risk involved.

Risk management improves your bottom line

Risk management strategies aren’t just about finding a new insurance policy. A properly implemented risk management system should actually save you money because logically you’ll be facing fewer losses and improved efficiency. That translates to reduced operational costs and ultimately, more profit.

All individuals at all levels of the organization stand to benefit from the forward-thinking, opportunistic outlook that risk management systems provide.

Successfully implementing a risk management system offers benefits like:

  • Helping everyone in the organization understand and prepare for risk
  • Helping to develop clear goals and objectives in line with a higher level business strategy
  • Fostering more informed decision-making
  • Cultivation of a company culture of continuous improvement
  • Improving trust between the organization and its stakeholders
  • Encouraging innovation and positive change within the organization
  • Improve success rate within the organization

How to automate risk management

The positive impact of a risk management system is amplified when combined with automation.

When you consider that any risk management framework is essentially a series of repetitive tasks (because risk management by definition is a repetitive process) the benefit of automation becomes immediately clear.

By utilizing automation, you can save time and money by eliminating tedious manual tasks from your workflow.

What’s more, you actually reduce the risk of the risk management process, because less manual work means less room for human error.

You can easily automate your risk management process with Process Street.

In fact, the risk management template below already has a whole bunch of automation built in, like conditional logic for reactive decision making, dynamic due dates to keep on top of deadlines and streamline deliverables, and role assignments to cut out time wasted from chasing up colleagues to do their part in the process.

For a comprehensive introduction on how to use Process Street for risk management, check out this webinar video:

Otherwise, check out the gargantuan list of risk management templates we’ve prepared for you down below.

Free risk management templates

If you’re looking for templates to make getting started with risk management that much easier, look no further.

Below you’ll find 30+ templates for risk management, from a simple, customizable process, to SWOT and FMEA analyses, to all sorts of ISO audits and miscellaneous inspection checklists.

When it comes to risk management, audit and inspection processes are one of the most fundamental components of risk identification and analysis.

So, here’s a bunch of free templates to help you streamline your risk management system.

Risk management process

risk management processThis risk management template is a simple process you can use to get started with risk management.

Of course, the best kind of risk management strategy will be highly customized, which is why you should edit this template to suit your own needs.

Nonetheless, this template will help you get a head start!

Click here to get the template.

SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

SWOT analysis templateSWOT stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.

The purpose of a SWOT analysis is to examine an organization, business, or project using these four attributes to determine a strategy for improvement or optimization.

This SWOT analysis template will help you to assess risks and potential rewards while also understanding the most important factors that impact the success (or failure) of the business.

Click here to get the template.

FMEA: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis

fmea failure mode and effects analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis is a method for identifying potential problems and prioritizing them so that you can begin to tackle or mitigate them.

This FMEA template is designed to help you follow a grid process for documenting your FMEA quickly and easily!

Click here to get the template.

SOP template

standard operating procedure SOP template structureThe purpose of this standard operating procedure (SOP) template is to provide the necessary structure from which to create your own standard operating procedures.

You can edit and customize it as you like; it will definitely help you nail a process for writing SOPs that works for you.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 14001 EMS structure template

iso 14001 ems structure templateThis ISO 14001 EMS structure template is designed to help you easily build standard operating procedures in line with the ISO 14001:2015 requirements for an environmental management system.

The structure of this template is based on the ten clauses of the Annex SL management system standard, as well as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle for continuous improvement.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 14001 EMS mini-manual procedures

iso 14001 ems mini manualHere we have an ISO 14001 EMS mini-manual template, which is a fully filled-out example for a fictional construction company using the mini-manual template above.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 14001 environmental management self-audit checklist

iso 14001 ems self audit checklistThis ISO 14001 internal audit template is designed to be used to perform an internal audit against the requirements of ISO 14001:2015 for an environmental management system (EMS).

Self-auditing is an important part of risk identification and analysis, and can help to define a high-level overview of an organization’s performance, and how any perceived risks might affect that.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 19011:2018 checklist for auditing management systems

iso 19011 management system audit checklistThis ISO 19011 audit checklist is designed to simplify the process of planning for and carrying out an audit of a management system.

Consider using this tool to adapt the audit programme for the specific requirements of a risk management audit (i.e. to the guidelines of ISO 31000) since ISO 19011 is designed to work regardless of the management system type, the scope, complexity, or scale of the audit.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 9001:2015 audit checklist for quality management systems

iso 9001 quality management system internal audit checklistISO 9001 is all about quality management systems. This audit template will help you assess the performance of your QMS against the requirements of ISO 9001:2015.

Quality is closely related to your organization’s ability to deliver value. Remember that risk management is all about preserving and creating value.

So, running a QMS audit will help you to pinpoint risks and problem areas, and ultimately improve your organization’s ability to deliver value to your stakeholders.

Click here to get the template.

ISO 9000 structure template

Just like the ISO 14001 structure template above, this ISO 9000 structure template is designed to help you easily build standard operating procedures which adhere to ISO 9001:2015 Quality Manual

Click here to get the template.

ISO 9000 marketing procedures

This ISO 9000 marketing procedures template is the filled-in version of the above ISO 9000 structure template; it’s an example of what a fully functional ISO 9001 mini-manual might look like.

Click here to get the template.

More ISO audit templates

Electrical inspection checklist

electrical inspection checklistElectrical inspection can be risky business – and an electrical inspection checklist will help you minimize human error and streamline the whole process.

This checklist is geared toward inspectors who are looking to visit residential properties to perform an assessment.

Our goal with this checklist is to create an actionable way to follow the correct procedures of industry standard inspections which can fit easily and fluently within the modern workflow, making the process easier and more effective than before.

Click here to get the template.

More electrical inspection checklists

Hotel sustainability audit

hotel sustainability auditThis hotel sustainability audit provides a structured, quick and straightforward way for any hotel business to internally assess the sustainability of their operations.

Click here to get the template.

For more hotel and hospitality templates, check out our hotel management template pack.

More inspection templates

More risk management resources

If you found this article useful, you might be interested in these resources:

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How do you approach risk management? Do you use any specific frameworks, tools, or approaches? Let us know in the comments below!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.


One Comment

Bruce thanks for this lovely article. I used to be very active in the Risk Management sphere in Nigeria many years ago but I shifted my attention else where. This article brings back nostalgic feelings and a nudging to go back home to the Risk Management field. I will love to correspond more with you.


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