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Three Keys to a Successful ERM Program

February 2021
Strategies to achieve ERM program success

Whether you are new to the concept of enterprise risk management (ERM) or already have initiated an ERM process on campus, United Educators (UE) recommends three key steps to ensure program success over time.

1. Get leadership buy-in. ERM focuses on risks that cut across the institution, lack a formal owner, and require cross-functional coordination to manage. As a result, an ERM program can quickly become marginal if it is not prioritized at an institution’s highest ranks. Long-term success depends on a champion of substantial power who provides program visibility to the board, president, and/or head of school. The champion also must demand accountability. By comparison, traditional risk management tends to focus on a set of risks narrower in focus and written into the job responsibility of a single person or team, like some compliance or hazard risks.

2. Act. ERM is less about precision and absolutes and more about relativism and action. Doing something “fast and roughly right” is almost always better than doing nothing. Many institutions overwhelm themselves with getting organized or identifying and assessing risks, spending 80% of time and effort on this and 20% on treatment and implementation UE recommends the opposite: 20% on planning and 80% on acting. There’s no need to unearth every stone at your institution immediately or get stuck in the wording of a particular risk. Treat one or a few risks and gradually expand your program. Get small wins early and learn as you go.

3. Manage burnout. ERM is not a project with an end date; the process grows and matures over time. To be successful, use these strategies to manage against burnout:

  • Consider scope when delineating mitigation activities or assigning risk owners. Make goals attainable.
  • Celebrate small wins and focus on positive feedback.
  • Identify and engage a key champion who can share the burden and bring energy to the process. The champion could be part of a key functional or operating team that inherently manages risk and could gain new visibility with your program; a key administrative leader who anticipates a major risk and wants help; or a dynamic, well-liked personality who can inspire others to engage.

ERM can seem daunting. But adopting these keys to success can help. Focus on incremental improvements — being better today than you were yesterday. Discussing and treating risks that had not been addressed before makes your campus safer and likelier to thrive.

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