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Quality Creates...Perspective

5 Things My Dog Taught Me About Risk Management

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Thu, Sep 22, 2016

I’ll admit it—I’m one of those cra5_things_my_dog_taught_me_about_risk.jpgzy dog people. My dog has multiple beds throughout the house (including my own), I buy her special food from a refrigerator in the dog food aisle and I watch her on a webcam when I go out of town.

I’ve also taught her a lot of cool tricks, and along the way she’s taught me a lot as well, particularly when it comes to risk management. If you’re a dog lover too, you understand how much chaos these furry beasts we live with can create.

1. Take a Predictive Approach

When it comes to managing dog-related incidents, prevention is key. For example, my dog has never once emptied out the trash bin, because I put up a baby gate across the kitchen entry whenever I leave.

Why put up a gate if it’s never been a problem?

  • She routinely flips up the trash bin lid for a sniff when she walks by, so I know she’s thought about it.
  • My dog once ate an entire bag of homemade jerky sitting on the kitchen counter (including the bag).

These are important leading indicators that tell me a garbage incident could definitely occur. Plus, a gate is a simple measure that eliminates the risk of an incident.

2. Consistency is Key

Effective risk management requires consistent action over time. The same thing is true when managing risks and behavior with a dog.

For instance, my dog barks like a maniac when cars drive into our cul-de-sac, which is super annoying. But as my trainer taught me, yelling at the dog just doesn’t work (she thinks I’m joining in).

Instead, the trainer taught me how to gradually lure her away and calm her down, rewarding calmness with treats. It’s been a long process, but our consistent work means she can now sit nicely and just growl quietly as the mailman drives by.

The same is true for risk management in the quality world. You can’t just do a risk assessment here or there—it’s about applying a consistent, closed-loop process, day in and day out.

3. Focus on Building Relationships

When I first got my dog, I thought my role was to dominate and control her. It didn’t work. Once I started working with a trainer, however, I learned I needed to build a relationship with my dog if I wanted her to listen.

Giving her treats, taking walks, teaching her tricks—these things deepened our bond, creating a foundation for training. The same is true when it comes to working with people and managing others. As they say, people don’t care what you think until they think that you care.

Human behavior is the biggest variable in operational risk management. If your risk management efforts include getting others to change their behavior, building relationships is necessary for them to respect what you have to say.

4. Use Risk Assessment to Determine Priorities

One of the biggest risk management lessons I learned from my dog is how to identify high-risk events. My dog has eaten a lot of bad stuff, including ornaments, shoes, electrical wires, at least 9 square feet of bedding and (I suspect) an entire dead bird.

I used to get freaked out by it, but if I ran to the vet every time, I’d be broke. Now I take a watch and wait approach. A little mineral oil in her food to move things along, and I let it ride as long as she’s eating, using the bathroom and not staggering or lethargic.

Quality managers often face similar dilemma when juggling a pile of hazards and incidents, trying to figure out what really deserves their attention. Risk is the yardstick for deciding. Tools like the risk matrix and risk-based filtering make it easy to pinpoint what’s likely to cause bigger problems, and what can wait.

5. Monitor and Measure

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and it’s true with dogs as much as it is in the quality management world. For my pup, it means watching her weight when we go to the vet and making adjustments to her feeding and/or activity as necessary (weight issues create big problems for dogs).

When it comes to risk management, you can’t manage it if you aren’t measuring it, which is why quantitative risk assessment tools play such a key role in continuous risk reduction. But just like dogs, it’s not just something you can do once and set aside. Identifying hazards, assessing risk, applying your process—consistent action is what lowers your risk profile in the long run.  

Learn the importance of risk-based filtering in this white paper

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Rachel Beavins Tracy
Rachel Tracy is a writer for ETQ with expertise in environmental, healthcare and technology topics. She has a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and has been writing for businesses since 2008.
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