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Does Risk Management Encourage the Abdication of Accountability by Managers?

Forrest ChristianOverachievers 1 Comment

“Managers should never be allowed to abdicate their management accountabilities and authorities by having HR do what is their job!”

I learned this from management guru and past president of Forrest & Company, Nick Forrest (no relation) several years ago when I had the good fortune to work with him briefly.

Why mention HR when in a discussion about Risk Management? Because the risk management expert Grant Purdy of Sufficient Certainty makes a similar claim about risk management. In a submitted comment on the Institute of Internal Auditors’ new formation of risk management, he points out that their new Three Lines of Defense Mode

wrongly promotes technical silos (the 2nd line) who take on responsibilities that rightly should be management’s. While this may inflate the egos and incomes of those heading up the silos, the net effect is detrimental for the organisation.

Labelling a particular advisory department, the Risk (or Risk Management) Department only allows decision makers to abrogate their responsibility to ensure that with decisions they make there is sufficient certainty the desired outcomes will be achieved. 

The IIA’s Three Lines of Defence Model Is As Badly Flawed As Its Old One

It’s worth reading from the top through. This is clear thinking.

Nick made almost the same argument at length in his excellent book on executive management, How Dare You Manage. It is worth quoting at length:

has been forced into filling a void caused by managers’ abdication of their managerial work. Holding truthful conversations about performance is the accountability of managers, not HR.

You cannot allow your managers – or yourself – to lob these issues over the wall to HR. HR employees become the enablers of your managers. By usurping the role of the immediate manager, they drive a wedge between managers and their direct reports, debilitating the key trust-building relationship in your organization. If you let your managers lean on HR to avoid the uncomfortable work of management, you give anaklesis room to grow and undermine managers’ energy and strength to get things done.

This anaklitic dependency on HR is driven by the heavy weight of wrongheaded assumptions and practices elsewhere in the organization. Managers must manage.

How Dare You Manage, p. 190

Replace “HR” with “RM” in Nick’s screed and you have the exact same point being made by Grant about The Three Lines Model. (Everything about The IIA takes a capitalized article.)

Wilfred Brown worried about all the Specialist lines, both as Managing Director of Glacier Metal (UK) and later in the House of Lords (UK). In his explication of the Glacier Management Method in both Organization (1971) and his film series for the Glacier Institute of Management, Explorations In Management (1970?) goes into the “specialist problem” at length. It bedeviled him, and according to his son, he never felt it got cracked right.

Perhaps because it doesn’t have a good solution. The specialists aren’t part of core business line. They augment. You don’t have to have them on staff to make money, and they are often outsourced. ‘

But the solution is NEVER to sell your managerial authority for a mess of pottage.

It is management’s abdication of their accountability for the results of the staff under them that creates these monsters. We experts – whether HR, Audit, Risk Management, Environmental, whatever – should be challenging managers to do the management that they are getting paid for. It would reduce costs, increase revenues, and even reduce malfeasance.

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