I was doing an annual performance review last week with one of the managers, and, well… you know how these things go. We went over his objectives from last year, his areas for development, the priorities and accomplishments he is shooting for next year, blah blah blah. It was going stale, as these things sometimes do. So I threw in a zinger.
“What is the biggest risk you took last year?” I asked.
The droning stopped for a moment as he looked up at me, initially with a look of shock and horror, then quickly morphing into excitement.
Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Well,” he began, “It would be that time I confronted John about moving ahead with the xxyy idea. That could have blown up in my face, but it ended up having a huge impact.” We went on to talk about what made it risky, how he weighed the pros and cons, how he calculated the upside to his career.
I then told him about a risk I recently took. I am still not sure if it was a good career move or not, but time will tell.
If we are not taking risks once in a while – you know, facing the gaping abyss with palms sweating, heart racing, gasping for breath – then we are probably not growing in our careers. Or in life.
Think of it as an adventure.
When taking a risk, will you be perceived as a rabble-rouser or a visionary? Here are some guidelines to know if you are taking a smart risk:
1. You have a strong conviction. If you are doing your job, you should be constantly scanning, observing, reading the marketplace to develop insights and ideas about what could be done differently, or better. You have valuable opinions, ideas and recommendations. So don’t hold back.
2. Involve a trusted ally. Once you have formulated an idea that rocks, run it by some respected friends (those with credibility in the organization) to make sure you are not going off the deep end. Sometimes our mind can play tricks on us, or our political experience has not caught up to our ambition, s0 it’s a good idea to get an objective reality check.
3. Back it up with evidence. This may seem counter-intuitive, since the very idea of risk says that we don’t have enough data to guarantee an outcome. But no one in your organization will buy into a decision or new direction without some level of research to build a case for taking the next step.
4. Check your intentions. Be honest with yourself. Are you motivated for the greater good of the organization, of the customers, the shareholders and the other team members? Or are you just doing this to make a big fuss about yourself and grab attention? The best protection against a risky move is to back it up with an unquestionable commitment to the best interests of the organization rather than showcasing your ego.
Now, get out there and make it happen.
Photo by the one and only Nancy R.