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Case study: ITV

Understand others and you understand risk taking

What you’re really getting is good information from really good people. The knowledge is invaluable.
Ruth Denyer, Head of health, safety and insurance risk management, ITV 

Ruth Denyer, group head of health, safety and insurance risk management at ITV (broadcaster of the largest commercial family of channels in the UK), explains how LSE’s Managing Risk in Organisations executive education programme has reshaped her approach to managing risk.

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Why do people take risks? Can we predict what risks certain people will take? What influences their decisions? LSE’s Managing Risk in Organisations executive education programme aims to equip managers with a toolkit that allows them to approach these issues in their own organisations.

One such participant is Ruth Denyer, group head of health, safety and insurance risk management at ITV, who completed the course in 2016. She reflects on how the programme gave her knowledge at the level she sought:

This course talks about risk management in more academic and well thought-out terms than some of the courses out there.

Dr Emma Soane is one of the main academics behind the course. The thinking behind the curriculum, she explains, is to identify commonalities across industries and organisations as well as specific contingencies, from which we can build frameworks for understanding risk.

Risk is clearly a significant consideration for ITV. They want to produce great television, and great television – to be exciting and well-received by the audience – often involves risk-taking.

"Effective risk management requires an in-depth understanding of how people interact with their work, with each other, and with their organisations. We start off by opening up participants' thinking about what risk is, how people tend to think about risk, and then we look at people as individuals who are influenced by organisational structures and processes."

Academic theory delivers tangible outcomes

Understand the people in your organisation, and their attitudes and beliefs about risk, and you will be able to manage it effectively – this is the central tenet of this five-day programme. “I have always had a belief that behaviour is a really important part of managing risk,” says Denyer. “What was really interesting was how much that came across in the course, how you can show that in modelling and how the academic research backs all that up.”

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Indeed, theory is wed to practice in this programme. “Participants should come away with some robust and practical ideas about what they can actually change that will have an impact on the way that risk is managed in their organisation,” says Soane. Denyer has certainly found this to be the case: “The modelling has absolutely helped practically. I am able to explain to the audit committee and relevant boards where we can pull certain levers to influence risk and communicate much more effectively the role of central risk functions. If you understand the modelling behind it, as you can from the course, you can really start to explain yourself better.”

Taking a risk on great television

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This behavioural approach has come to inform not just her personal thinking, but the wider approach taken to managing and discussing risk at ITV. “We’ve looked at changing the way we talk about things. We’ve come to understand a model that doesn’t focus as much on behaviour is not a model that works for this business; indeed, it may not be the right model anywhere. It has certainly enabled us more freedom in focusing on what works if you’ve got an environment that requires a certain behaviour.

“It’s made me think about the content we make, and the acceptance of risk in the sign-off of certain content,” she continues. “We make everything from high-end dramas with a lot of planning and scripted action, to entertainment shows, which may have elements in themselves which pose an inherent risk due to the activities they include right through to deploying crews to war zones and fast moving daily shows.  Each production will pose a different risk profile and part of what this course is enabling you to do is unpick and talk about how certain leadership groups make decisions on risk.”

The course has also allowed Denyer to find clarity around communication in her organisation. “I realised we had a lot of good messaging around risk at ITV that wasn’t tied to the topic. We just needed to pull and tie it all together with the message at the centre. Something like getting an ITV executive to do a piece to camera about risk – it’s nothing that they wouldn’t have said anyway, it’s just framing it the right way. The course gives you the confidence to do this and the understanding of why it’s so important.”

The future of risk management

downton-abbey-s3-clip-behind-the-scenes-of-dining-at-downton-posterDenyer and Soane are now working together at the head of a joint LSE-ITV research project to further understand the psychology of risk. “Risk is central to the work of ITV,” explains Soane. “They want to produce great television, and great television – to be exciting and well-received by the audience – involves risk-taking. We are examining how risk managers think and feel about risk, so that we can achieve an understanding of risk managers as individuals. We are also assessing risk managers' views on how their teams make decisions about risk, and on the organisational climate. For example, do people feel empowered and enabled to speak up if they see something they’re worried about; do teams that have a strong shared understanding about decision processes and risks?”

The collaborative research project is in its infancy, so it remains to be seen what insights will emerge. One thing is clear to Denyer – for a risk-management professional, LSE’s executive education programme can provide amazing insight. Over the course of the five days, participants complete a personal assessment, participate in classroom discussions and complete group work projects as well as an individual written assignment, receiving feedback and guidance from world-class faculty members, who deliver the course alongside Dr Soane. “Because I’ve trained to be a safety professional, I’ve done a lot of courses,” Denyer concludes. “This is the one I’d really recommend. It’s the foundation of a lot of information about risk. The knowledge is invaluable”

Want to find out more or apply for the Managing Risk in Organisations course?

Find out more course information

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