The Importance of the First Five Minutes of Any Risk and Strategy Conversation

If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing articles for my risk and strategy blog is that considerable thought has to be put into the post’s title and opening lines. With a seemingly endless amount of content on the Internet, visitors will quickly whisk away if the title and intro to an article is not engaging enough to grab and hold their attention.

If there’s a pithy quote that illustrates this fact and captures the essence of today’s article, it’s:

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

This classic quote from iconic American actor Will Rogers is not only great “life” advice, it’s also especially helpful for improving risk and strategy conversations at your company.

The timeless truth of Will’s wisdom doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the life of a risk professional.

As I discuss in the article 5 Key Personas of an Effective ERM Professional, a “facilitator” is a key trait risk managers must possess in order to play an active role in their company’s strategic planning.

Unfortunately, according to experts and my own experiences, facilitating these high-level impactful strategic conversations is not a skill taught at most business schools.

Now I’m not talking about just any meeting – you probably have at least some rudimentary knowledge on organizing one of these, but when it comes to strategic conversations, Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon explain in their book Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change:

It’s a craft defined by a few core principles and key practices that can catapult a ‘been there, done that’ meeting into a gathering that few will forget.

Regardless of it’s the first time you are talking with executives or business-unit managers about a specific topic or your first meeting with executives and senior management, taking the following three steps at the beginning of a risk and strategy conversation is about establishing trust and ensuring a more relaxed discussion. Without these steps, participants will not feel comfortable sharing sensitive information with you, eventually leading to ERM being cast as a “check-the-box” exercise for satisfying regulators.

  1. Introduce yourself

This may seem like a “duh” suggestion, but it’s common for us to just provide our name and leave it at that. (And if you are on Zoom or Teams call, please make sure your full name is showing on the screen, not just first initial last name.) What is frequently missing from our introduction is context – what do you know about what is about to be discussed.

Instead of just your name, what executives and other participants in risk and strategy conversations really need to know is your background. This doesn’t mean you have to draft this elaborate bio that will take 5 minutes to explain, which coincidentally only leads to confusion and boredom to whoever is on the receiving end.

However, taking 30 seconds to a minute to explain your background and its relevance to the conversation will be a huge relief for meeting participants. In fact, in very brief client meetings held just this week, I used a single (not a run-on) sentence method to introduce myself: “I have 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, from regulator to carrier to consultant, bringing risk and strategy background to the table for today’s discussion.” That simple introduction made myself relevant to the senior leadership on the call.

At a client, where only the CFO really knew me, I did this type of introduction with the other participants, and I could literally see the relief on their faces once they understood the extent of my industry experience and ability to speak the language of their business.

  1. Ask for a synopsis of their background

This can take as little as 30 seconds or a few minutes – it really depends on the preferences of the executive. If you are short on time, you can even say, “Why don’t you give us the 30 second version of your background? That way, we can make sure we are all on the same page.” Regardless of how long it takes, learning about the background of executives and other meeting participants will provide great insights into what this person is responsible for and how they describe their background.

This step builds on #1 by further establishing trust and a level of comfort.

The reason why this step is so helpful in doing this is because it provides the opportunity for executives to talk about their area. Even if it’s only for a minute, most people enjoy doing this. Putting the focus on the executive instead of you and your processes will dramatically increase the level of engagement and trust with ERM.

  1. Provide assurances that information will remain private

This step is probably the most impactful in getting executives to relax. It’s common for ERM to be seen as more of a nuisance or a way of saying “gotcha” rather than a helpful tool for reaching goals, so it’s customary for executives and others to not share too much.

Here is the easiest way to avoid this issue and obtain the unvarnished information you need to be a valuable part of the decision-making process. You reassure participants that any notes will be remain confidential, and information will be aggregated in a way that no one will be able to determine a person’s identity once you present your findings.

Assuring executives, managers, and others that their words will remain anonymous provides a noticeable sense of relief and thus leads to them to being much more open, or as I’ve been told a few times:

It feels like I’ve been talking to a therapist. I appreciate you listening to me.

Taking these three easy steps in the first five minutes of any risk and strategy conversation helps build a level of trust that makes the entire meeting so much more beneficial to everyone involved. This also allows me to ask the tough questions that need to be asked.

We all have the temptation to go with an option that requires the least amount of work. However, by taking just a few moments to go through these three steps, you will not only gain the insights you need but also prove ERM’s value to the company in the process.

How do you start the risk and strategy conversations at your company?

We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts about this or other topics around risk and strategy. To share your perspective, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If you prefer to remain anonymous, you can email me directly at comments@strategicdecisionsolutions.com.

If your company is struggling to gain valuable insights from risk and strategy conversations and wants to learn how it can fix this, please contact me or schedule a meeting today to begin discussing your challenges.

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