Joanna Makomaski

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Column: Risk Management

Power in Gratitude

By: | August 31, 2015 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I recently learned of Harvard Business School associate professor and psychologist Francesca Gino, who authored “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.” The book caught my interest due to the risk management flavor embedded in the title. Her book explores how certain emotions influence our decisions and achievement of goals, and how powerful expressions of gratitude are.

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Her deductions were based on simple experiments conducted with Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School. They asked a group of students to provide feedback on a bogus employment cover letter. Half the group received terse instructions for the assignment while the other half’s instructions included a genuine expression of gratitude.

Fifty-five percent of the group that received thanks felt higher levels of self-worth, as opposed to 25 percent from the other group. Gino states that simple yet powerful words like “thank you” have deep influence on our decisions and behaviors.

Simple yet powerful words like “thank you” have deep influence on our decisions and behaviors.

She says that, “by missing chances to express gratitude, organizations and leaders lose relatively cost-free opportunities to motivate” and ultimately to achieve desired goals. That sounds a lot like the point of risk management: “helping organizations and leaders find low-cost opportunities to reach desired goals.”

A simple “thank you” can lower key employee attrition rates? Build organization morale? Enable collaboration? Grow customer bases? Increase productivity? It appears so.

Measuring the direct profitability impact of gratitude toward employees is tricky, but I would imagine very persuasive. Studies have made compelling cases where bottom lines benefit with recognition programs.

An increase in employee satisfaction scores due to day-to-day recognition by their supervisors can directly correlate to customer satisfaction and loyalty scores, which directly lead to increased profitability.

Have we identified a powerful no-cost risk mitigation strategy here? If so, we as leaders, risk management and business gurus should consistently express gratitude daily.

The truth is, we aren’t always doing the best job of thanking, praising and recognizing our workforce, partners and clients. And that’s a shame.

I’m reminded of a recent personal experience. On the cusp of the official start of the 2015 Pan Am Games, where I have worked these past years as VP, enterprise risk management, a board member sent me a personal note. She thanked me sincerely for my contribution.

She expressed how my risk management effort, innovation and leadership were deeply valued. I even deduced that she felt pride in being associated with my work.

Even today, when I try to express how her note made me feel, I fall short. Elated. Fulfilled. Invigorated. Not sure these words truly capture it.

But overall, it felt sensational. Even though I was financially compensated for my work, her note rewarded me differently. I received what felt like a super-powered productivity pump-up when I desperately needed one.

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I instantly became ready to go another 10 rounds if called upon. For that gift, I want to thank her and let her know she was the inspiration behind this column. It only takes a few moments to say thank you — but her thoughtfulness will be remembered a long time.

Expressing gratitude can make a day, grow business — even change a life. As I see it, the only risk we face is failing to routinely put it into words. We can do better and it starts here … thank you for reading.

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Column: Risk Management

It Takes More Than Insurance

By: | August 3, 2015 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

For the past three and a half years, I have proudly served the head of enterprise risk management for a large multi-sport event. These games are some of the largest in the world, with thousands of visiting athletes and officials from 41 countries.

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Spectators view multiple disciplines of summer sports at many venues and facilities as well as enjoy spectacular opening ceremonies, torch relays, and live festival sites.

An operation like this naturally comes with a few risks. The idea of having accountability to assess all risks at first felt overwhelming, but I took on this momentous task. However, as I have reached the end of my time with the games, I am thrilled to say that we did it.

By identifying our risks, we were able to defend the allocation of resources on risk management activities, investments in risk controls, and right-sizing asset protection strategies.

I have never been prouder of my team for this accomplishment. This was enterprise risk management at its best.

The ERM program had a risk assessment process that forced a neutral centralized line-of-sight to risks and issues that all functional areas and external stakeholders relied on. By identifying our risks, we were able to defend the allocation of resources on risk management activities, investments in risk controls, and right-sizing asset protection strategies.

All risks from across all functional areas and venues were documented along with associated risk treatment options. Risks included sport delays or cancellations due to weather, traffic or inaccessible venues; warm weather related issues; health, safety and environmental concerns; and animal control situations.

Our job as an ERM team was to ensure that all risks got covered with some kind of risk control before games time. Not only did we review insurance coverage, but the rest of risk controls included a variety of trained and tested health and safety, security and contingency plans.

These critical plans provided guidance in managing events that deviated from normal operations of the games.

At times, our risk control plans got a wee creative but with good precedent. The 2010 Commonwealth Games used langur monkeys at several of their venues in New Delhi to keep other havoc-causing monkeys in check in public places.

No joke. We have dogs trained to keep geese off our athletic tracks. Just imagine a 100-meter dash with honking water fowl on the track.

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I always remember that as I do risk assessment that it’s not always about coverage and that risk control must go well beyond insurance procurement.

It likely doesn’t help that often we reference the insurance group as risk management. I guess Warren Buffet said it best when comes to naked risks: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

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Column: Risk Management

Whose Risk Prevails?

By: | June 1, 2015 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

When I relay the upcoming story, I fear some of you may think less of me. I am curious however to discover what readers think. So please do write me with your thoughts.

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I was on an early morning flight. All the passengers were boarded and settling in for a long flight. The head flight attendant came on the intercom with the usual pre-flight announcements and routine housekeeping information.

At closing, he had one last announcement. He told us that one of the 180 passengers had a peanut allergy and asked that we dispose of any peanut products that we had.

He proceeded to come around to every seat with a garbage bag waiting for us to throw things out.

I was a bit stunned. I had grabbed a morning coffee and muffin just minutes prior.

Was I supposed to throw away my quick breakfast?

Did my Chapstick have peanut oil traces? My face powder? My hand cream? My snack-size bag of almonds?

With the resurgence of measles and other previously controlled or vanquished infectious diseases, should we mix vaccinated children with non-vaccinated children in classrooms? Whose risk prevails?

In the end, I handed nothing to the attendant. I confess I felt a bit off afterwards and it made me think.

Was I to dispose of things that I needed and use every day?

Moreover, was the risk faced by one enough to override and create inconvenience, discomfort or loss to 179? Was this risk management effort a bit too heavy- handed?

This situation somehow reminded me of grade school — when naughty Billy got caught chewing gum in class, the teacher took all of our gum away. Even as a child I never understood the logic.

But the question remains, in situations like that, whose risk should been managed? Whose risk prevails? Whose rights are more important?

Is there a rule of thumb that can guide us as to which risk should override the other?

When faced with such a quandary, I always feel it is best to re-group and go back to basic principles and intention of good risk management — ensuring goal delivery and protection.

So, in this case, if the airline set a goal to ensure all passengers experienced a safe and comfortable flight, I suspect the peanut-snatching approach gave discomfort to many and hence undermined that goal.

But if the airline set a goal to ensure “14B with the peanut allergy” had a peanut-free, safe and comfortable flight, the risk management measures were appropriate.

This situation made me further think of our new socio-medical dilemma that’s brewing.

With the resurgence of measles and other previously controlled or vanquished infectious diseases, should we mix vaccinated children with non-vaccinated children in classrooms? Whose risk prevails?

Whose rights are more important — the risk borne by the few unvaccinated children, or that of the whole class?

Parents who choose not to vaccinate argue that it is their right not to vaccinate. But their decision can make their child a potential source of infection, endangering their community and cause the potential return of vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Is it incumbent on parents of vaccinated children to accommodate non-vaccinators?

I recognize that a well-functioning society requires us to routinely recalibrate our competing interests and risks.

But I also feel that we can’t lose sight of the rudimentary risk management principles of goal protection and assurance.

What goal as a society are we trying to protect? The welfare of one or of the many?

Let’s hear it from the peanut gallery.

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