Glimmers of 2021
Jan 7, 2021

In the first scene of Shakespeare's grand tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra, a character asks the Soothsayer* to foretell her fortune. His reply is an apt caution to all of us who try to look into the seeds of time, to say which will wither and which will prosper: "In Nature's infinite Book of Secrets, a little I can read."

With that in mind, let's see if we can spot a few promising trends for the coming year in risk management. Let's start with the human equation. What talent and working conditions do we need to acquire/nurture as we move ahead? The good folks at the Jacobson Journal have a new report out from which we shall borrow shamelessly:


Leaders who champion change and drive innovation - yes, that's you, dear reader, and the change/innovation task set isn't over; it's just beginning.


A strong virtual environment corporate culture - sorry, that's not done yet either. You've made the first big push; now continue working through all the ramifications for your people and your customers.


Remote hiring - ouch. This is a toughie, but we all have to get used to the idea of making key hires absent the usual press the flesh, have lunch, meet the whole office process.


Rethink onboarding - frankly, most of us don't have black belts in onboarding anyway, but this becomes far more critical in a more virtual environment. You can't rely on good old "monkey see, monkey do" any more.


Diversity becomes even more important - the faster you need to move into new ideas and technology, the more diversity of background and thinking you need.


Accessibility - yup, in a virtual business moving fast, being accessible and transparent isn't a nice to have anymore.


Hybrid workforce - you're going to have people working all kinds of home/office and shift arrangements. Get used to it and use it to make your functions ever more responsive and flexible.


Work/life gets all twisted up - we all have to give ongoing, top-drawer thinking to how we manage work-life issues in our brave new world. Hint - none of it is obvious.


New talent needs - traditionally we have looked for and nurtured strong in-person communication talent. Now we need to focus on abilities to communicate effectively at a distance, whether in writing or via one of the many forms of virtual meeting technology. Getting your message across on a teleconference requires a different skill set from meeting face to face. Identify those skills and nurture them.

In many ways, upgrading/updating our technology is the easiest part of the 2021 challenge. We are already going down that path. BUT - how well are we socializing our new techno-wonders, helping our people and our clients make the best, least frustrating use of our new tools? The user-technology interface is where so many great ideas crash and burn and then we wonder why productivity, customer satisfaction, and other key metrics aren't perking up as expected. Example: when you select a new technology solution is in-depth user education and ongoing, problem solving support a key buying consideration, maybe even more important than price? Or are you expecting, metaphorically speaking, an eight year old to figure out how to drive your new whiz-bang, tech-laden combine harvester by herself?

Lots of 2021 new year lists have the usual things to do. How about a short list of risk management DONTs for the coming year? Here's our list cribbed from ITL:


Don't reinvent the wheel - when we are trying to move quickly to meet rapidly emerging needs, we often forget to look around to see what other enterprises are doing to meet similar needs. Don't be too quick to assume that your needs are unique. The number of solutions "on the shelf" today is amazing. Only build what you can't find ready made.


Don't ignore IT - COVID has pushed us all into building virtual solutions at an unprecedented pace. This means that everyone's IT units are running at capacity in every sense. Be certain to include IT as your partner moving forward to avoid making impossible commitments.


Don't stop short - COVID has pushed us to identify a slew of new risks, including a plethora of cyber risks. Don't think that you have these risks corralled because you have them on a list and have had a couple of meetings. Many of these new risks run deep. If you see a periscope, assume there's a submarine under the waves.


Don't fail to manage expectations - a lot of folks are looking at risk management to solve critical problems right now. Be very realistic in setting common goals and sharing progress - and setbacks. Try to avoid unpleasant surprises by being as transparent as feasible.


Don't fail to get an outside view(s) - do whatever makes sense to maintain a realistic perspective, including engaging qualified professionals to make certain you have surveyed every aspect. Too much familiarity can breed an - OOPS!

We have all dodged a lot of bullets in 2020. We hope you are pleasantly surprised in looking back over what risk management has accomplished during this annus horribilis** just passed. But there is no time to let our guards down now. 2021 comes with no guarantees.

A wreath made of laurel or wild olive branches was the traditional reward for Olympic champions or victorious generals among the ancient Greeks and Romans both. Many risk managers have certainly earned such a wreath for 2020. But remember that your laurel wreath is to be worn on your head. If you are "sitting on your laurels", you are wearing them in the wrong place.

Awarding a laurel wreath at ancient Olympos

*Soothsayer is the original term for what today we call "futurists." Then, as now, it was a non-tenured position.

**A horrible year - a phrase used by HRM Queen Elizabeth II more than once recently.


Quick Take 1:
A Deadly Trend

The American workplace has been getting safer with fewer fatal injuries for many years. Until 2019, that is. More than 5,300 people died on the job in 2019. In a 12-year high, a worker died every 99 minutes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in its annual statement. This marked a 2% increase from 2018, but a 10.3% leap from 2015 to 2019.

The good news is that the rate of fatal injuries was stable (remember the remarkably high rates of overall employment in 2019), but the increases were concentrated in specific racial groups. One out of five workplace fatalities in 2019 were Hispanic or Latino workers. The 1,088 deaths among this group marks a 13.2% jump from the previous year and the most since the census began in 1992. That is a striking change.

Where did these fatalities come from? According to the BLS report:


Slips, trips, and falls resulted in 880 deaths - an 11.3% increase from the previous year.


Workers in construction and extraction occupations experienced 1,066 fatal injuries - a 6.3% increase from 2019 and the highest total since 2007.


Drivers/ sales workers and truck drivers experienced 1,055 fatal injuries, the most since 2003.

Obviously, 2020 will be an "asterisk year" in every BLS report going forward, but these trends and their implications are a topic every safety program manager should be thinking about. We can do better.

Oh, yeah - about the asterisk year. An opinion piece in the Washington Times said: If the asterisk didn't already exist, someone would need to invent it. The little starburst is destined to appear everywhere the details of pandemic-dominated 2020 are documented. Wherever it pops up, the asterisk will serve to remind future readers something happened that year which requires additional explanation to grasp.


Quick Take 2:
Yes, Virginia, There Is Still a Long Run

The right here, right now demands of dealing with 2020 may have us all focusing on tactics* for the moment, but the long run is still out there. The good folks at McKinsey & Company have put together an excellent discussion that we all need to consider - "Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run".

From the article:


When you ask people how they are doing and get beyond the perfunctory answers of "I'm fine" or "I'm managing through it," a deeper level of challenges emerges: "I'm anxious, overwhelmed, and lonely," "I'm completely burned out," "I've lost my sense of optimism," "I'm not sure how much longer I can keep going like this."

If that doesn't sound like anyone in your organization, count yourself lucky and move on. If you're not so sure, this quick read may be very useful. It focuses on ideas like curbing unnecessary bureaucratic processes, working according to more human-centered principles, moving beyond a grinding reliance on grit and perseverance. The authors also discuss facing and dealing with the grief for what we have lost in terms of personal relationships, our comfort with long established ways of doing things, our communal sense of tomorrow.

They suggest that we listen deeply for signs of exhaustion and other natural responses to stress, that we focus on care, connection, and well-being. It's not enough that our people survive. They need ways to thrive as well. This is a good think piece. No easy recipes, but plenty of food for thought.

*According to Sun Tzu in The Art of War: Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

The foundational text for management consulting, circa 500 BCE


Say It Isn't So...

A real class act. Here's a snippet from the Workers' Compensation Research Institute's new years message:

In lieu of sending cards and as the demand for food during the COVID-19 crisis continues to rise, the Institute has made a donation to the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and amongst the largest food banks in the country.

Way to go, Dr. Ruser. Makes me proud to be a member of WCRI.


Words to Remember

Read these words from Neil Gaiman carefully and take them seriously. Seldom will you receive better advice.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work, or family, or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year, and forever.


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