The risk of unexpected or unintended consequences

March 2, 2014
Entrance Gate of Sejong University, Seoul, Korea

Entrance Gate of Sejong University, Seoul, Korea

Looking at recent events it is impossible not to notice how many of the risks faced by companies were either unintended or unexpected.  From a risk management standpoint, such a failure to appreciate potential risks because the risks were unexpected or the result of unintended consequences, is a failure of  risk management itself.

Granted, it may be easier to foresee certain risks than others and take action to mitigate the risks that are more visible.  But the very reason to create a risk management system and nurture a culture of risk mitigation, it to foresee all potential areas of risk and take steps to mitigate or at least acknowledge the existence of risk.  Stockholders of a finance company do not want to be told the company collapsed because it failed to appreciate the risks inherent in mortgage backed securities.  Investors in an energy company dont want to be told the company collapsed because it failed to reign in corruption and malfeasance on the part of upper management.  What every company must ask itself is the fundamental question- "Has the company looked at all areas of risk, including the unexpected areas and taken steps to mitigate the risk.?"

Risk comes in many packages. Political. financial, legal, business, economic, natural and of course personal.  Risk can be the result of political or economic events.  Risk can also result from natural disasters. But it can also be the result of success.  In essence, there is risk in the unexpected consequences of  success.  How so you may ask?  Look at Sony.  Sony's success led to hubris.  It led to the decision to expand in to a multitude of business ventures and product lines which resulted in Sony concentrating less on it core products which had made it successful and concentrating on product lines it was not so familiar with. The end result- it took its eye off the ball. Samsung and LG rushed in.  Sony, Panasonic and others are victims of thier own success.  But they didn't have to be if they appreciated the fact that success can lead to unintended consequences.

The world today is flat.  Every aspect of the world is interconnected.  Success can be fleeting if companies fail to realize that a company's brand is now based not only on creating a superior product, providing superior service or creating a superior experience.  The risk a company faces on a day to day basis is that it fails to recognize it must provide a superior product on a regular basis.  Once it provides a superior product or service, it must continue to do so or it runs the risk of failure or collapse.  It faces unexpected failure as it relied too long on the out of date "successful" business plan.  Or it experiences unexpected failure because it relied too long on the "superior" product that suddenly becomes out of date. The risk is that a company fails to realize everything changes, and based on past success or based on unexpected success fails to push the envelope and fails to provide a superior product or superior service all the time.

How does your company handle success?  Has it stopped striving to be the best?  Has success made it complacent?  Does it understand that there is great risk in success if it fails to understand why it became successful?  Does the risk management department consider the risk of unintended consequences?  What do the reports from the field say about products and product development?  What does Service say about customer satisfaction?

A risk management department in any company must understandably handle commonly perceived risk on a daily basis.  But it must also consider the risks inherent in unexpected or unintended consequences.  Failure to do so invites great risk and potential disaster.





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