Personnel-sensitive risks are those that can be understood only after acquiring personnel-sensitive information — information that, if disclosed improperly, could compromise the privacy of an employee, and thus the enterprise or its security, or place the enterprise in legal jeopardy. Most enterprises are reasonably careful about these disclosures, but protecting employees' privacy can become problematic for risk management planning.
Risk management plans for typical projects are usually enterprise-public. That is, anyone with a reasonable business-related need to examine them can do so — sponsors, project managers, auditors, functional managers and many others. Even when the author's permission is required, the security protecting risk management plans is rarely any more robust than the security protecting their projects.
That creates problems. Suppose that Dan's elderly mother has been gravely ill. Because he's been shuttling back and forth to his hometown for six months, his availability has been unpredictable, and certainly less than 75%, but her death is expected mercifully soon.
Dan's project manager wants to revise the risk plan to take this into account, justifying a reduction in reserves previously allocated to covering for Dan. In many organizations, there is no way to do this transparently without compromising Dan's privacy.
This example probably lies at the innocuous end of the spectrum of personnel-sensitive risks. There are others far more sensitive — divorce, illness or injury physical or mental, disciplinary issues, substance abuse problems, office love affairs gone wrong, and toxic conflicts, to list just a few.
The inability to plan discretely for managing personnel-sensitive risks has important consequences.
- The risks aren't mitigated formally
- You can't document mitigation plans for risks you can't discuss.
- Risk mitigation is more likely to be incomplete or excessive
- Since risk managers can't safely discuss certain risks, they either fail to mitigate them adequately, or they conceal the mitigation elsewhere in the mitigations of risks they can discuss.
- Reflection is inhibited
- Learning Learning from past experience
is difficult when the risk plans
as documented differ from
what the risk managers
were actually doingfrom past experience is difficult when the risk plans as documented differ from what the risk managers were actually doing.
- Personal information is more likely to be disclosed inappropriately
- Risk managers who do try to plan transparently are at risk of disclosing personal information that should not be disclosed. Such action could potentially create legal liability for the enterprise or for the discloser.
- Employees are less likely to be forthcoming about personal matters
- Knowing that personal information is at risk of disclosure, some employees keep personal information private, even when they know that doing so might harm the task for which they are responsible.
The risks that enterprise-public risk management plans cannot address are therefore rarely subjected to the best available risk management practices. These risks persist unmitigated, or at best, they're mitigated by informal, off-the-books decisions and allocations. Enterprise-public risk management plans are simply inadequate to the task.
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
- Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish
between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way
- Some entries from my personal collection of useful insights.
- Appearance Anti-patterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments,
disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance
and the substance of things can help.
- On Standing Aside
- Occasionally we're asked to participate in deliberations about issues relating to our work responsibilities.
Usually we respond in good faith. And sometimes we — or those around us — can't be certain
that we're responding in good faith. In those situations, we must stand aside.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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