Overcoming the Risk Professionals Who Resist Change

Before we begin, I am not going to name any individuals in this article. There are many examples of risk and assurance practitioners who like to talk about change, but then strive to prevent it from happening. They are so common that you are bound to know some of them. They are not a small minority, which is why it is difficult to have an honest conversation about them. Few members of this community are willing to cause trouble for themselves by calling out the laggards who repeatedly block change. The obstructionists exist, they are a problem, and their selfish behavior is an impediment to the rest of us succeeding. So instead of talking about specific individuals, let us begin by talking about the change that most of us want to see in this world, but which is not happening as urgently as it should.

  • Increased diversity. White men are hugely overrepresented in the upper echelons of our profession. I am a white man too, so I could be selfish by neglecting to draw attention to the imbalance. But the bias is so obvious that I find it shameful to ignore. We know we need more black leaders. We know we need more women leaders. And yet, we do not know what most white male leaders intend to do about it.
  • Increased respect for our work. You do not have to be a university professor of labor history to appreciate the two main tactics used by working people to secure better treatment. One method is collective bargaining, as exemplified by trade unions. The other is the imposition of professional standards and minimum levels of education. Sometimes these overlap; medical doctors are often represented by bodies who negotiate for better pay and monitor the competence of people employed as doctors. In contrast, our community has attempted neither.
  • Less talk and more action. It was my experience that if I wanted my bosses to appreciate me more then I had to do things that would not be done otherwise. Results matter. Talk does not. At the same time, we know a lot of the challenges we face would be best addressed by collective action amongst multiple operators. The bodies responsible for coordinating this action too often indulge people who gladly talk about collaboration, but who then list reasons to dismiss the possibility of concrete action and refuse to offer any proposals of their own.

With this in mind, here is a simple guide to identifying the obstructionists in our midst:

  • Who agrees there is a need for more women and more black people at the top of our profession, but will not commit to taking any action that might make it happen?
  • Who agrees that better training would be a good thing, but will only develop training materials when they are guaranteed to make a profit from selling it?
  • Who agrees that there are serious risks that are getting worse, but cannot name a single new proposal for a collective response that they are willing to support?
  • Who likes to sit on committees and talk about collaboration, collaboration and collaboration, but is unable to describe a single positive outcome from years of supposed collaboration?
  • Who is willing to address serious questions like these, and who is desperate to avoid them?

These questions are not complicated. You know there are practitioners who want to be in positions of responsibility whilst never feeling obliged to promote change. They want the pay and/or status that comes with responsibility, but without being actually responsible.

It is too easy for me to rant about people like this on Commsrisk. I am not risking anything because the obstructionists are too lazy and self-satisfied to read this website. However, I sometimes receive calls and messages from other people who are upset by the resistance they encounter. They want me to know about the bad things that other professionals do. They share their frustrations when their ambitions are blocked by refuseniks whose only goal is to maintain the status quo. My advice is simple but brutal: if you are unwilling to fight for your beliefs, then I cannot win those battles for you.

The poet John Donne explained in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions why no man (or woman) can truly stand alone.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

As Donne wrote, we are all involved in mankind. The failure to overcome racism is partly my failure. The failure to effect necessary change is partly my failure. But every outcome also belongs to you.

Our community is not a democracy, but if it were then I would have only a single vote. It is my belief that I am in the majority when it comes to desiring the changes listed above, but a lone voice loses power when over-used, whilst a chorus gets stronger with each repetition. So do not just tell me if the world is askew. Tell everybody, including the people who stand in your way. Change happens when enough voices speak as one.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.