I recently spoke with a committed, intelligent, business-savvy in-house designer who is struggling with challenges posed by her company that are, unfortunately, typical of the difficulties faced by many other corporate creatives. She reports into the wrong department, deals with political turf wars on a daily basis and watches helplessly as clients go their own way with their branding initiatives, resulting in a fractured incoherent branding message.
Well aware of the damage these practices are inflicting on her company, she knows she should take action but, as we talked, it became clear that she was unwilling to do so. To effectively address the problems we discussed would mean spending a lot of the political capital and goodwill she had amassed as an effective, committed team player. Any attempts on her part to change the status quo might even result in her getting fired and she was, understandably, not going to risk that happening. There were areas within her department, she discovered, though, where she could make a significant positive impact, so she chose to focus her efforts there.
Being a change agent in a corporation is a risky proposition no matter how justified. In the often politically charged corporate landscape, a misstep, even in an effort to support your company, could backfire and result in unpleasant and sometimes critical consequences. Whether or not to take risky actions is a very personal choice that is impacted by the risk taker’s personality, the potential consequences and rewards of taking action and the available opportunities to mitigate the risk associated with a particular action.
The most important point is to, as much as possible, put aside the emotional aspect of risk taking (namely fear) and objectively assess the risk against the potential positive outcome of a particular plan of action. This also includes looking at ways to minimize the consequences of a bad outcome.
When viewed through a more rational prism, you’ll not only discover that you’ve probably exaggerated how your actions will be perceived by others, you may also find that any possible negative consequences aren’t as critical as you originally thought. You’ll also find that there are various ways to effect the change you believe is needed and that some are likely to cause less collateral damage to you than others.
One of the practices of risk assessment that you’ll be most prone to neglect is the honest assessment of the consequences of taking no action – not just in the near-term but in projecting what a lack of action will mean months or years from now for both you and your company. As easy as it is to ignore this, underestimating the negative impact of inaction is often the riskiest action you can take.