Risk Management: Expect the Unexpected

by Ed Schirick

If we are truly going to contribute to the camp experience that gives kids a world of good, we must expect the unexpected. In risk management terms, this means becoming accomplished at identifying risks that could adversely impact the camp experience and the community of camp as a whole. It means increasing your awareness about the type of accidents and incidents that occur at camp, when they happen, why they happen, and what the consequences are for all parties concerned. Becoming expert at expecting the unexpected also means developing the creative problem-solving skills that anticipate, reduce, prevent, or eliminate these risks.

Beyond this, knowledge of human nature, the ability to pick quality staff, comprehensive training, experienced leadership, and solid execution of your plan are the major factors in how successfully you manage risk and deal with the unexpected. Let's explore some of the aspects of this thought more specifically with respect to developing staff as key players on your camp's risk management team.

Human Behavior

In my opinion, people ultimately make the difference in any situation. You can have the best risk management plan ever written on paper, and unless you have staff who can execute it, your expectation will not be met, and your camp safety net will not be as secure as it could be.

Your ability to put the right team together depends on many variables. But, the most significant factor is you. What type of manager are you? Is your style directive, or do you seek participation and advice from staff? What type of person works best under your management style? Do you seek independent thinkers, who will challenge you, or will someone who is a follower thrive better under your leadership? Besides very specific skills, what personal characteristics or qualities does an employee need to excel in your camp environment? What methods do you use to determine if an individual has the characteristics and qualities you need? The answers to these and other questions about your staff are important pieces to your organization's puzzle and vital factors in your camp's formula for developing a solid group of players for your risk management team.

Why Don't People Do What They Are Supposed to Do?

Have you ever wondered why staff don't do exactly what you told them to do? Ferdinand F. Fournies did. In fact, he wrote a book about it called Why Employees Don't Do What They Are Supposed to Do and What to Do about It. Some of his insights seem to fit here.

Making the "why" connection
Fournies offers a reason for why people don't do what they are supposed to do. He explains that employees don't know why they should do it. It has been my personal experience that staff respond more effectively when they understand why. Understanding why is easiest when there is a dialogue and an opportunity to participate in the development of procedures and plans. But, this doesn't mean that managers with a directive style can't make the "why" connection with staff. Indeed, they can. It just takes awareness and a focus on communicating the information. Failure to communicate and to understand why contribute to poorly executed risk management plans. How do you communicate with your staff about risk management? Do they understand why?

Considering the "how" and "what"
Fournies presents two more reasons why people don't always do that they are supposed to do. He maintains that staff might not know what to do and how to do it. Wow! This thought highlights some very fundamental issues for staff training and development. Furthermore, if staff don't know what is expected of them, how can they possibly expect the unexpected?

Fournies, once again, offers some useful insight. He states that telling employees is not teaching them and assuming they know costs you money. Consider the possibilities of this thought.

Part of the solution lies in structure and good fundamental training. The structure consists of clear, concise job descriptions that should be reviewed with each staff person individually if possible. Each staff person should be encouraged to ask questions about their primary duties and responsibilities. Doing so privately may help to eliminate the inhibitions some people have about asking questions in a group setting.

Presenting them with manuals and handbooks for use as reference and for discussion also contributes to successful communication and to understanding why. People learn in different ways. Some are visual, others must hear and work with the material before they absorb the information and learn the lessons contained.

Don't assume that everyone knows how to do a particular task. If it is a skill counselors will need, teach it during orientation. The more they understand about how, what, and why, the better your chances are they will expect the unexpected and help you successfully execute your risk management plan.

Resisting change
Fournies makes two additional conclusions: they think your way will not work, and they think their way is better. Resistance to change is at the heart of the reasoning, and as Fournies stated, sometimes smart people think the wrong things.

Experience is a significant factor in the way staff respond to the challenges at camp. Nothing replaces experience. Consider the van driver. If she has driven the vehicle only in good weather, she may not know what hydroplaning feels like on a wet road. Nothing will cause you to slow down faster than the helpless feeling you experience when you turn the steering wheel and the vehicle does not respond.

New employees have a tendency to think your way will not work. Consider putting a new staff person with a more experienced one to help overcome this type of resistance. Resistance to change is often the response of an older more experienced employee. Anticipate this and engage experienced staff in a program of constant improvement. Seek good suggestions for improvement from your staff and implement their ideas. You will have to provide leadership and be prepared to alter some things in which you have been very comfortable.

Managing the Human Challenge

To develop a solid team of risk management players, directors must learn about human behavior, what characteristics and qualities staff need for success in your camp environment, and how to overcome the problems of inexperience and resistance to change. Managing these challenges successfully will help you build a risk management team that will expect the unexpected and deliver a world of good to campers.

Originally published in the 2001 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.