Risk – avoid or embrace?

Our comfort zone can feel like a great place to be. It is safe, familiar and poses no immediate threat; it is low-stress and well, comfortable. With a definite bias towards playing it safe, our brain convinces us that we are better off where we are and there is no need to try something new.

Which of course leads us to avoid risk and perhaps miss some important opportunities.

But outside of this comfort zone lies creativity, new ideas, innovation and new developments.  Is it worth missing out on those?

Maria always had so many new and interesting ideas for modernising training in her organisation, but she had kept them to herself because sharing them wasn’t worth the risk. The company liked to play it safe and didn’t encourage new ways of doing things.

When she was promoted to a leadership role, she started to feel a little braver. While her circumstances were still comfortable and familiar – the same office, the same colleagues, the same organisational goal- she only now felt that she had the positional power to offer up her ideas.

She created a plan to shift all the company’s training to a single online hub. She met resistance from those who would have to make the most change, but most thought the idea was brilliant and wondered why it hadn’t been done before this point. She also began to wonder why she hadn’t been able to share this idea earlier, then she remembered the impact her old boss had on her. Now, she promised herself, she was going to encourage new ideas in others rather than play into people’s natural risk-aversion.

Often the fear of something new is greater than it needs to be – it seems riskier than it really is and the potential benefits that the change will bring about get overlooked.

To take risks, people need to know they will be safe – that they will still be accepted and supported.

When employees are highly risk averse, businesses miss out on new ideas, creative approaches to problems and perhaps ideas that would gain new products and market share.

Everyone will have a slightly different appetite for risk, but if you feel that your employees are overly risk averse, this may be an indication that your working culture is lacking the psychological safety needed for people to take risks.

Here are some steps that teams and leaders can take to ensure that the fear-based brain isn’t overly limiting possibilities.

  • Assess the appetite for risk-taking in your team or organisation
  • Invest in creating more psychological safety
  • Encourage stepping out of comfort zones and celebrate new ideas
  • Remind people that it’s OK to be wrong – mistakes happen; they can be the foundation of great learning
  • Celebrate failures and ensure that you and others create learning from them, without blame and judgement
  • Avoid perfectionism – perfect is the enemy of the good, it only creates more fear
  • Reframe change to entertaining a novel new idea

Remember that to implement change, you are likely to activate people’s natural sense of risk aversion. They can overcome it and feeling safe will make it so much more possible that they will embrace it.

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If you feel your team or organisation is playing it too safe and there’s more room for innovation, talk to us to see if we can help you create more psychological safety or other behaviours that will get you the results you want.