How to manage risks in order to stay in business

What is Enterprise
risk management?
Mark S. Beasley
Deloitte Professor of ERM and Director of the ERM Initiative
North Carolina State University
2801 Founders Drive
Raleigh, NC 27695
919.513.0901 |
Mark S. Beasley
Deloitte Professor of ERM and Director of the ERM Initiative
All organizations have to manage risks in order to stay in business. In fact, most would say that
managing risks is just a normal part of running a business. So, if risk management is already occurring
in these organizations, whats the point of enterprise risk management (also known as ERM)?
Lets Start by Looking at Traditional Risk Management
Business leaders manage risks and they have done so for decades. Thus, calls for enterprise risk
management arent suggesting that organizations havent been managing risks. Instead, proponents
of ERM are suggesting that there may be benefits from thinking differently about how the enterprise
manages risks affecting the business.
Traditionally, organizations manage risks by placing responsibilities on business unit leaders to
manage risks within their areas of responsibility. For example, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is
responsible for managing risks related to the organizations information technology (IT) operations,
the Treasurer is responsible for managing risks related to financing and cash flow, the Chief Operating
Officer is responsible for managing production and distribution, and the Chief Marketing Officer is
responsible for sales and customer relationships, and so on. Each of these functional leaders is
charged with managing risks related to their key areas of responsibility. This traditional approach to
risk management is often referred to as silo or whereby each silo leader
is responsible for managing or elevating risks within their silo as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1
Limitations with Traditional Approaches to Risk Management
While assigning functional experts responsibility for managing risks related to their business unit
makes good sense, this traditional approach to risk management has limitations, which may mean
there are significant risks on the horizon that may go undetected by management and that might
affect the organization. Lets explore a few those limitations.
Limitation #1: There may be risks that fall between the siloes that none of the silo leaders can see.
Risks dont follow managements organizational chart and, as a result, they can emerge anywhere in
the business. As a result, a risk may be on the horizon that does not capture the attention of any of
the silo leaders causing that risk to go unnoticed until it triggers a catastrophic risk event. For example,
none of the silo leaders may be paying attention to demographic shifts occurring in the marketplace
whereby population shifts towards large urban areas is happening at a faster pace than anticipated.
Unfortunately, this oversight may drastically impact the strategy of a retail organization that continues
to look for real estate locations in outlying suburbs or more rural areas surrounding smaller cities.
Limitation #2: Some risks affect multiple siloes in different ways. So, while a silo leader might
recognize a potential risk, he or she might not realize the significance of that risk to other aspects of
the business. A risk that seems relatively innocuous for one business unit, might actually have a
significant cumulative effect on the organization if it were to occur and impact several business
functions simultaneously. For example, the head of compliance may be aware of new proposed
regulations that will apply to businesses operating in Brazil. Unfortunately, the head of compliance
discounts these potential regulatory changes given the fact that the company currently only does
business in North America and Europe. What the head of compliance doesnt understand is that a key
element of the strategic plan involves entering into joint venture partnerships with entities doing
business in Brazil and Argentina, and the head of strategic planning is not aware of these proposed
Limitation #3: Third, in a traditional approach to risk management, individual silo owners may not
understand how an individual response to a particular risk might impact other aspects of a business.
In that situation, a silo owner might rationally make a decision to respond in a particular manner to a
certain risk affecting his or her silo, but in doing so that response may trigger a significant risk in
another part of the business. For example, in response to growing concerns about cyber risks, the IT
function may tighten IT security protocols but in doing so, employees and customers find the new
protocols confusing and frustrating, which may lead to costly work-arounds or even the loss of
Limitation #4: So often the focus of traditional risk management has an internal lens to identifying
and responding to risks. That is, management focuses on risks related to internal operations inside
the walls of the organization with minimal focus on risks that might emerge externally from outside
the business. For example, an entity may not be monitoring a competitors move to develop a new
technology that has the potential to significantly disrupt how products are used by consumers.
Limitation #5: Despite the fact that most business leaders understand the fundamental connection of
risk and return, most businesses are struggling to connect their efforts in risk management to
strategic planning. For example, the development and execution of the entitys strategic plan may not
give adequate consideration to risks because the leaders of traditional risk management functions
within the organization have not been involved in the process.
The result? There can be a wide array of risks on the horizon that managements traditional approach
to risk management fails to see, as illustrated by Figure 2. Unfortunately, some organizations fail to
recognize these limitations in their approach to risk management before it is too late.
Figure 2
Embracing Enterprise Risk Management (ERM)
Over the last decade or so, a number of business leaders have recognized these potential risk
management shortcomings and have begun to embrace the concept of enterprise risk management as
a way to strengthen their organizations risk oversight. They have realized that waiting until the risk
event occurs is too late for effectively addressing significant risks and they have proactively embraced
ERM as a business process to enhance how they manage risks to the enterprise.
The objective of enterprise risk management is to develop a holistic, portfolio view of the most
significant risks to the achievement of the entitys most important objectives. The e in ERM signals
that ERM seeks to create a top-down, enterprise view of all the significant risks that might impact the
business. In other words, ERM attempts to create a basket of all types of risks that might have an
impact both positively and negatively on the viability of the business.
Leadership of ERM
Given the goal of ERM is to create this top-down, enterprise view of risks to the entity, responsibility
for setting the tone and leadership for ERM resides with executive management and the board of
directors. They are the ones who have the enterprise view of the organization and they are viewed as
being ultimately responsible for understanding, managing, and monitoring the most significant risks
affecting the enterprise.
Top management is responsible for designing and implementing the enterprise risk management
process for the organization. They are the ones to determine what process should be in place and
how it should function, and they are the ones tasked with keeping the process active and alive. The
board of directors role is to provide risk oversight by (1) understanding and approving managements
ERM process and (2) overseeing the risks identified by the ERM process to ensure managements risktaking actions are within the stakeholders appetite for risk taking. (Check out our thought paper,
Strengthening Enterprise Risk Management for Strategic Advantage, issued in partnership with
COSO, that focuses on areas where the board of directors and management can work together to
improve the boards risk oversight responsibilities and ultimately enhance the entitys strategic value.
Elements of an ERM Process
Because risks constantly emerge and evolve, it is important to understand that ERM is an ongoing
process. Unfortunately, some view ERM as a project that has a beginning and an end. While the initial
launch of an ERM process might require aspects of project management, the benefits of ERM are only
realized when management thinks of ERM as a process that must be active and alive, with ongoing
updates and improvements.
The diagram in Figure 3 illustrates the core elements of an ERM process. Before looking at the details,
it is important to focus on the oval shape to the figure and the arrows that connect the individual
components that comprise ERM. The circular, clockwise flow of the diagram reinforces the ongoing
nature of ERM. Once management begins ERM, they are on a constant journey to regularly identify,
assess, respond to, and monitor risks related to the organizations core business model.
Figure 3
Positioning ERM for Strategic Value
Because ERM seeks to provide information about risks affecting the organizations achievement of its
core objectives, the starting point of an ERM process begins with gaining an understanding of what
currently drives value for the business and whats in the strategic plan that represents new value
drivers for the business. To ensure that the ERM process is helping management keep an eye on
internal or external events that might trigger risk opportunities or threats to the business, a
Visit our website to download this and the other thought papers highlighted in this
strategically integrated ERM process begins with a rich understanding of whats most important for
the business short-term and long-term success.
Lets consider a public-traded company. A primary objective for most publically traded companies is to
grow shareholder value. In that context, ERM should begin by considering what currently drives
shareholder value for the business (e.g., what are the entitys key products, what gives the entity a
competitive advantage, what are the unique operations that allow the entity to deliver products and
services, etc.). These might be thought of as the entitys current crown jewels. In addition to
thinking about the entitys crown jewels, ERM also begins with an understanding of the organizations
plans for growing value through new strategic initiatives outlined in the strategic plan (e.g., entry into
new geographic markets, launch of a new product, or the acquisition of a competitor, etc.). You might
find our thought paper, Integration of ERM with Strategy, helpful given it contains three case study
illustrations of how organizations have successfully integrated their ERM efforts with their value
creating initiatives.
With this rich understanding of the current and future drivers of value for the enterprise, management
is now in a position to move through the ERM process by next having management focus on
identifying risks that might impact the continued success of each of the key value drivers. How might
risks emerge that impact a crown jewel or how might risks emerge that impede the successful
launch of a new strategic initiative? Using this strategic lens as the foundation for identifying risks
helps keep managements ERM focus on risks that are most important to the short-term and longterm viability of the enterprise.
With knowledge of the most significant risk on the horizon for the entity, management then seeks to
evaluate whether the current manner in which the entity is managing those risks is sufficient and
effective. In some cases, management may determine that they and the board are willing to accept a
risk while for other risks they seek to respond in ways to reduce or avoid the potential risk exposure.
The Focus is on All Types of Risks
Sometimes this emphasis on identifying risks to the strategies causes some to erroneously conclude
that ERM is only focused on strategic risks and not concerned with operational, compliance, or
reporting risks. Thats not the case. Rather, when deploying a strategic lens as the point of focus to
identify risks, the goal is to think about any kind of risk strategic, operational, compliance, reporting,
or whatever kind of risk that might impact the strategic success of the enterprise. As a result, when
ERM is focused on identifying, assessing, managing, and monitoring risks to the viability of the
enterprise, the ERM process is positioned to be an important strategic tool where risk management
and strategy leadership are integrated. It also helps remove managements silo-blinders from the
risk management process by encouraging management to individually and collectively think of any and
all types of risks that might impact the entitys strategic success.
Output of an ERM Process
The goal of an ERM process is to generate an understanding of the top risks that management
collectively believes are the current most critical risks to the strategic success of the enterprise. Most
organizations prioritize what management believes to be the top 10 (or so) risks to the enterprise (see
our thought paper, Survey of Risk Assessment Practices, that highlights a number of different
approaches organizations take to prioritize their most important risks on the horizon. Generally, the
presentation of the top 10 risks to the board focuses on key risk themes, with more granular details
monitored by management. For example, a key risk theme for a business might be the attraction and
retention of key employees. That risk issue may be discussed by the board of directors at a high level,
while management focuses on the unique challenges of attracting and retaining talent in specific areas
of the organization (e.g., IT, sales, operations, etc.).
Monitoring Top Risks with Key Risk Indicators (KRIs)
While the core output of an ERM process is the prioritization of an entitys most important risks and
how the entity is managing those risks, an ERM process also emphasizes the importance of keeping a
close eye on those risks through the use of key risk indicators (KRIs). Organizations are increasingly
enhancing their management dashboard systems through the inclusion of key risk indicators (KRIs)
linked to each of the entitys top risks identified through an ERM process. These KRI metrics help
management and the board keep an eye on risk trends over time. Check out our thought paper,
Developing Key Risk Indicators to Strengthen Enterprise Risk Management, issued in partnership
with COSO for techniques to develop effective KRIs.
Given the speed of change in the global business environment, the volume and complexity of risks
affecting an enterprise are increasing at a rapid pace. At the same time, expectations for more
effective risk oversight by boards of directors and senior executives are growing. Together these
suggest that organizations may need to take a serious look at whether the risk management approach
being used is capable of proactively versus reactively managing the risks affecting their overall
strategic success. Enterprise risk management (ERM) is becoming a widely embraced business
paradigm for accomplishing more effective risk oversight.
Interested in Learning More About ERM?
As business leaders realize the objectives of ERM and seek to enhance their risk management
processes to achieve these objectives, they often are seeking additional information about tactical
approaches for effectively doing so in a cost-effective manner. The ERM Initiative in the Poole College
of Management at North Carolina State University may be a helpful resource through the articles,
thought papers, and other resources archived on its website or through its ERM Roundtable and
Executive Education offerings. Each year, we survey organizations about the current state of their ERM
related practices. Check out our most recent report, The State of Risk Oversight Report: An
Overview of Enterprise Risk Management Practices.
Visit to learn more.
Mark S. Beasley, CPA, Ph.D., is the Deloitte Professor of Enterprise Risk Management and Director of the ERM
Initiative at NC State University. He specializes in the study of enterprise risk management, corporate governance,
financial statement fraud, and the financial reporting process. He completed over seven years of service as a
board member of the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) and has
served on other national-level task forces related to risk management issues. He advises boards and senior
executive teams on risk governance issues, is a frequent speaker at national and international levels, and has
published over 90 articles, research monographs, books, and other thought-related publications. He earned his
Ph.D. at .

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