Managing Your
Public Risk

October 1999

The 5th Principle of Risk: Control

First, we defined our goals and terms. Then we identified our risks.  After that, we came up with workable solutions.  Last month we ranked our risks and decided which to manage and which to accept.  Now it’s time to make sure things don’t slip through our fingers – because if we can’t control the results, this guy, Murphy, and his vexatious laws, will!

 Control is another management responsibility.  What is control?  It is the ability to effect a desired change or to maintain a desired condition.  Too often, changes control us, not vice versa, leading to a sense of powerlessness and frustration.  More importantly, it means our risks are not under management’s control.

How can we get $1M of control for a fraction of that cost?  As Socrates showed us, questions are very useful.  Managers should regularly ask themselves and their staff questions like:

  1. What are your most serious risks?
  2. What are you doing about them?
  3. How and when have you confirmed your countermeasures are working?
  4. What plans do you have if your countermeasures fail?
  5. What can I do to support you?
Each one of these questions is important and each is the entry point to further questions that can be asked later.  We’ll cover them in a future issue.

The Levers of Control

 There are four major levers of management control in any organization:

1. Belief Systems – Mission, visions and
philosophies to inspire and motivate the troops;

2. Boundary Systems - Rules and regs to constrain inappropriate behaviour;

3. Diagnostic Systems (i.e. the budget) too complex to be done by generalist executives;

4. Interactive  – who managers talk to, what they ask, where & how they spend their time.

Staff pick up on the smallest signals, and what you send is replicated around the organization. If you want control, your signals better be strong, consistent, unambiguous – and the right ones. 


Recommended Reading for Risk Managers

 Levers of Control: How Managers Use Innovative Control Systems to Drive Strategic Renewal  by Robert Simons.  OK, so the subtitle is too long and trendy, but Canadian-born, Harvard Business Prof Simons knows how to explain the four levers listed above.  Well researched throughout, his chapter on Interactive Controls, the most innovative in the book, is highly commendable.  At just over 200 pages, this book is also a relatively quick read. 

This issue concludes the last of the five basic principles of risk: definitions, issues, solutions, decisions and controls.  We’ll review these principles in greater detail and many more useful risk management ideas in future issues. If you’d like to see a particular risk issue covered, let us know.  


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Risk Solutions offered by CADMUS:

Advice – candid, objective, confidential

Training – one, two, three day courses

Research – in depth risk analysis

Programs – complete loss prevention strategy

Facilitation – sound, sensible, participative solutions to organizational and public issues

Murphy spent 17 years (78-96) with Transport Canada, his last five as Regional Director General, Aviation in Winnipeg.  Originally trained as a professional pilot, he is the author of an internationally acclaimed 500-page report entitled "An Evaluation of Emergency Response Services at Airports in Canada," currently in its second revised edition (August 1999).  He is also the Chairman of the Air Passenger Safety Group (APSG), a Director of Transport 2000 Canada, a Director of the Ottawa Chapter of Christian Businessmen's Committee (CBMC) and the Secretary General of the Peugeot Club of North America (PCNA).


(Available in Word 97 by email or by fax from):

e-mail: Michael Murphy

CADMUS Corporate Solutions Limited, 
59 Queensline Drive,
Nepean, Ontario  K2H 7J4

Tel. (613) 829-0602      Fax (613) 829-6720

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