No Change Without Risk

Oct 09, 2014 No Comments by

A big part of change is taking risks.Experiment with Test Tube

Not everyone is comfortable doing that, so organizations sometimes need to build their internal capacity for change by building their internal tolerance for taking risk.

In today’s post, I’ll share ten ways that you can be a Change Agent for your organization’s future by demonstrating some healthy risk-taking behaviors.

Check out the discussion points at the bottom of this post to let me know what you think about this list of:

Ten Habits of Highly Effective Risk-Takers

If there is one thing I have learned over the course of the past few decades helping organizations deal with change it is this: I have never seen meaningful change happen without someone taking a risk.

Putting It On the Line: By definition, taking a risk implies that you may very likely lose something and that’s why a lot of people would rather sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to stick their neck out before jumping into the innovation arena.

Effective Change Agents do not get by so easily. They need to enter the battle ahead of their peers and demonstrate that the future belongs to those who take appropriate risks for the benefit of the group.

In order to impact your team for the good, you’ll need to be a risk-taker.

You’ll need to recognize when the status quo will no longer be a viable alternative.

You’ll also need to let others know through your actions that risk-taking is not just a sport for the adventurous; it’s a basic expectation of any innovative team member.

Take Ten for the Team: Here are ten ways that the best Change Agents demonstrate their commitment to innovation by taking risks:

paraJump1. They Go First: They often take risks before their peers and encourage risk-taking in others. By doing so they also encourage growth, innovation and confidence in those who look to them for leadership.

2. They Speak the Truth: They diffuse the nebulous clouds of fear that can form around new ideas by engaging their teammates in frank dialogue around the best-case, worst-case and most likely-case scenarios of different ideas. They use this dialogue to sharpen the innovative process.

3. They Balance the need for taking risks for the sake of progress with the even greater risk of doing nothing.

4. They Fail – A Lot. They establish up front that failure IS an option! They determine what percent of certainty is enough to grant themselves permission to try something – even if it might not succeed the first time.

5. They Plan to Fail. They create wiggle room in their plans to allow for a certain degree of expected failure, remembering that “failed experiments” are actually learning opportunities. They also anticipate the potential need for recovery plans in case the first attempt at something doesn’t go smoothly.

roll of the dice 26. They Use Their Head and Their Heart: They listen to their gut, but they don’t risk it all when such a gamble is not necessarily necessary.

They look for ways to avoid or postpone “all or nothing” bets without losing momentum. They break big risky experiments into less-risky milestones and interim decision-points.

7. They “Fail Faster” than their risk-averse counterparts. One way they do this is by taking personal (and shared) accountability for failure quickly and courageously. Owning up to failure increases the likelihood that the next person will take a chance when it’s needed.

It’s a quirk of human nature that it’s always easier to admit failure as a group than as an individual. That being said, most people still like it when someone else voluntarily goes first.

handling criticism-28. They Invite Criticism: They are not afraid to entertain thoughts, ideas and theories that run 100% opposite of their own cherished opinions. In fact, they embrace these heretical concepts as valid inputs to the grander process of group learning. Sometimes they even adopt these radical outside ideas as their own!

9. They Measure and Deal in Facts. Appropriate risk-takers routinely take fact-based measurements of their “experiments” and provide a frank & honest accounting for the actual progress they and their teams make toward goals. When the data tells them something is not working, they look for other ways to meet the goal.

10. They Leave the Audience and Enter the Arena: The bottom line is that risk-taking individuals find a way to effectively address the natural fear embedded in the risk-taking process instead of avoiding it. They don’t fear for their jobs, their titles or their perceived reputations because they know their skills are in demand.

fireworks explosionThey treat critiques as a mix of invaluable data and collateral chaff stirred up by the innovative process. By doing so, they encourage others to leave their seats and join in the fray.

Summary: Any meaningful change is going to come with some level of built-in risk and the most effective Change Agents recognize that fact going in. They lean into the opportunity to take appropriate risks and learn from their failures instead of avoiding them at all costs. In short – they are in the arena, not in the bleachers passively criticizing those who are fighting the real battle.

I can almost guarantee that in your role as a Change Agent, someone is watching you for signs that it’s safe to get involved in your change. Use this list as a reference point as you seek to demonstrate your change leadership skills.


Questions for Chatter: (click the “Comment” link below to join the conversation)

–       Are there any silent naysayers in your organization who are waiting for someone else to go first? How might you engage them to be active in your change?

–       Name the greatest risk you have taken as a Change Agent. What did you learn from that experience?

–       Does your organization encourage people to “fail fast”? If so, what are some great lessons that you’ve learned from this process?


Orange Line



Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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