Family Feud

Richard Dawson passed away this week.

For those that remember, he was the host of the one of the most popular game shows of the 70’s and 80’s, “The Family Feud.” The show consisted of two competing families answering various trivia questions. The families would have to guess the most popular answers to the questions, based on surveys conducted by the show’s producers.

Dawson would ask each family member the question and after some friendly banter, he would receive the answer. Turning to the answer board, he would shout his famous line, “And the survey says?!”

The show was pretty popular with my family and I can remember watching the show as a kid. My brothers and I would stretch out on the floor in front of the massive TV, encased in dark cherry wood about the size of one of today’s china cabinets.

The other thing Dawson was famous for was kissing nearly each and every female contestant. Dawson later would say that it was to remove any nervousness the contestant may have been experiencing. My father would sit on the couch behind us and watch the show as well. “ believe this guy,” he would
mumble and shake his head with a mixture of jealousy and annoyance after Dawson planted a kiss on each female contestant.

The curious thing about the show was that the contestants did not actually have to answer the questions based on their own thoughts. They just had to answer with what they thought most people in the survey had answered.

For example, if the question was, “Name something an employee might ask a boss for?” the contestants would have to guess what the most popular answers were in the survey rather than saying what they really believed.

Many times in our risk work, we are treated to a version of “The Corporate Feud.”

The basic risk assessment approach used by most companies is to identify some risks, send out a survey and have everyone vote for their favorite risks. Of course everyone in the company believes the most serious risks facing the company are the ones in their area. Accounting people vote for accounting
risks, marketing people vote for marketing risks, and so forth.

Executive management gets the survey results back and what do they do? …….Survey says?!….They take action on the most “popular” risks.

There are a couple of problems here. First, the risks are being evaluated in a vacuum. The risk assessment process does not take into account the company objectives or what the company is trying to achieve.

Second the risks are being looked at individually and not together or in risk patterns. Most negative risk events, say a legal sanction against the company, occur because a few risk factors are working together. What a luxury it would be for an executive team to be able to deal with risks one at a time…..

Finally, voting on risks individually and without regard to objectives creates the “beauty pageant” effect noted above. Whichever risk has the most “Likes” will be one deemed most serious to the company and will receive the highest mitigation budget. But what if the risk doesn’t threaten any company objectives?

The best way to remove the “Corporate Feud” effect is to analyze company risks by linking them to objectives and combine risks into risk patterns.

Dawson was a great game show host for sure. It’s strange that his legacy seems to be continuing in the corporate risk environment. But hey, who are we to argue? Perhaps running popularity surveys is the way to go!

On the other hand, linking risks to objectives and forming risk patterns is a more “real world” way to identify and mitigate risk ……although no one seems to want to kiss us for saying so…

Have a great week,

Michael Bechara, CPA
Managing Director
Granite Consulting Group Inc.

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