Attachment of risks

Although most standard definitions of risk referred to risks as being attached to corporate objectives, Figure 2.1 provides an illustration of the options for the attachment of risks. Risks are shown in the diagram as being capable of impacting the key dependencies that deliver the core processes of the organization. Corporate objectives and stakeholder expectations help define the core processes of the organization. These core processes are key components of the business model and can relate to operations, projects and corporate strategy.

The intention of Figure 2.1 is to demonstrate that significant risks can be attached to features of the organization other than corporate objectives. Significant risks can be identified by considering the key dependencies of the organization, the corporate objectives and/or the stakeholder expectations, as well as by analysis of the core processes of the organization.

In the build-up to the recent financial crisis, banks and other financial institutions established operational and strategic objectives. By analysing these objectives and identifying the risks that could prevent the achievement of them, risk management made a contribution to the achievement of the high-risk objectives that ultimately led to the failure of the organizations. This example illustrates that attaching risks to attributes other than objectives is not only possible but may well have been desirable in these circumstances.

Figure 2.1 Attachment of risks

It is clearly the case that risks are greater in circumstances of change. Therefore, linking risks to change objectives is not unreasonable, but the analysis of each objective in turn may not lead to robust risk recognition/identification. In any case, business objectives are usually stated at too high a level for the successful attachment of risks.

To be useful to the organization, the corporate objectives should be presented as a full statement of the short, medium and long-term aims of the organization. Internal, annual, change objectives are usually inadequate, because they may fail to fully identify the operational (or efficiency), change (or competition) and strategic (or leadership) requirements of the organization.

The most important disadvantage associated with the 'objectives-driven' approach to risk and risk management is the danger of considering risks out of the context that gave rise to them. Risks that are analysed in a way that is separated from the situation that led to them will not be capable of rigorous and informed evaluation. It can be argued that a more robust analysis can be achieved when a 'dependencies-driven' approach to risk management is adopted.

It remains the case that many organizations continue to use an analysis of corporate objectives as a means of identifying risks, because some benefits do arise from this approach. For example, using this objectives-driven' approach facilitates the analysis of risks in relation to the positive and uncertain aspects of the events that may occur, as well as facilitating the analysis of the negative aspects.

If the decision is taken to attach risks to the objectives of the organization, then it is important that these objectives have been fully and completely developed. Not only do the objectives need to be challenged to ensure that they are full and complete, but the assumptions that underpin the objectives should also receive careful and critical attention.

Core processes will be discussed later in this book and may be considered as the high level processes that drive the organization. In the example of a sports club, one of the key processes is the operational process 'delivering successful results on the pitch'. Risks may be attached to this core process, as well as being attached to objectives and/or key dependencies.

Although risks can be attached to other features of the organization, the standard approach is to attach risks to corporate objectives. One of the standard definitions of risk is that it is something that can impact (undermine, enhance or cause doubt) the achievement of corporate objectives. This is a useful definition, but it does not provide the only means of identifying significant risks.