I was a competitive distance runner for about 15 years. In all that time of racing, one day stands above the others.
It was May 1984, and I was beginning to understand how the specifics of my training translated into race results. On this particular day, with clear air and cool temperatures, I had chosen a race with just the right competition. I pulled through the first mile on the shoulder of a faster runner, and as we entered a downhill stretch, we were flying. I felt smooth; the long, hard intervals on the track were paying off.
When things go perfectly in a race, there is little conscious thought. Thinking invites doubt and forces you take an inventory of pain. It’s to be avoided. In its place is concentration, a firm focus on the task at hand. For me, in this race, my single focus was holding on, and it resulted in the fastest 5K I had ever run.
I should have been ecstatic. Celebration should have been in order, but there was a potential problem: I was running a 10K race.
Continuing at the pace I was running was risky. I knew there was a chance that I would falter, but I also knew I had an opportunity to run an incredibly fast time. Knowing that I had prepared myself to handle the challenge, I pressed on.
You can’t earn a reward without taking risk, but wild abandonment is a poor strategy. Success is most likely to occur when you take reasonable risk while managing the potential pitfalls. Today, I work as a compliance and risk officer for an insurance company, and the fundamentals I apply in my work are much the same as those I applied in the years when I was a competitive runner. Here are four things I learned through running that you can apply as you manage the risks of your organization.
Principles Guide. In order to be a successful distance runner, you have to develop certain qualities. Without discipline and fortitude, you won’t get very far. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I was crafting those disciplines through running, I was developing the guiding principles that would ultimately govern my life. In business, this equates to a company culture. If you want to manage organizational risk effectively, you need to cultivate a culture of trust and communication. A strong moral fiber that values your reputation in the marketplace and in your community will, in and of itself, help you avoid taking on risks that might ultimately lead to failure.
On a Mission. Before you can effectively manage risk, you need clearly-stated objectives. Risks, after all, are simply the obstacles that might keep you from reaching your goals. So set goals you can be passionate about, and then identify the risks that might keep you from reaching them.
Take Control. When you are a competitive distance runner, an injury can disrupt an entire season. Knowing this was a danger, I took steps to avoid injury. Once you’ve identified the key risks of your organization, assess what you are doing to control them. If the controls are lacking, take steps to improve them. Some risks can’t be eliminated, but prudent controls improve your chances of success.
Monitor and Adjust. Some of my running logs are more than 30 years old, and it’s fun to go back and read what I was doing and thinking back then. At the time, those logs helped me track progress, and they became a reality check: Was I doing the things I needed to do in order to reach my goals? In business, controls won’t sustain themselves unless you monitor them. Routinely assess the effectiveness of your control processes and keep your eyes open for emerging hazards. Risk management is a process, and you should adapt over time.
In the last couple miles of that race, I was running all out. As my competitor surged near the finish, he pulled away to win by a few strides, but I finished just behind him with a huge personal best.
That race never would have happened if I hadn’t prepared myself to take a gamble when the opportunity presented itself. By creating a solid risk culture in your organization, you can be prepared to take advantage of your opportunities.
Once you develop success principles, create a worthy vision and control your critical risks, great success is likely to follow. iBi
Dave Griffin is a risk management officer, long-time competitive runner and author of In the Distance. For more information, visit flyingfeetrunning.com.