“Weren’t you afraid to do this photo?”

“No. I safety pinned my shirt to my pants to avoid accidental exposure.”

“That’s not what I meant – you are in the middle of a sidewalk doing a wide arm headstand. I don’t even know where to start, you could have fallen, your bare hands are on the concrete, I know that location, there is a lot of traffic and you were worried about your shirt? That pose was a risky thing to do for the sake of a photograph.”

You’ve heard it, “to get ahead you need to take risks” and we also often hear “I risked it all to pursue my dreams.” Risk is a situation with exposure to danger. Here is a secret, while it may seem like a risk, those risks are calculated risks. The calculated risk means the chances of success have been assessed AND there is a mitigation plan. We do it all the time.

You are running late for an appointment, you think about traffic and the best route to take to ensure a good outcome. It’s the same for work. While somethings may seem bold, it’s a carefully calculated risk. How do you begin to make this work in business?

Proceed with Caution

You’re the new person on the team and ready to make your mark. There is a meeting with top management. A question is asked and you know the answer. You wait and it appears the more senior people cannot respond.

You: “Here is my chance, I can do it.”

Me: “STOP. Not so fast. How will this make the team look? Will your damage relationships? Is part of the strategy to not reveal everything?”

To take calculated business risks, you need to know the environment. How do you know the environment? Meet with the team prior to the meeting and find out what the objective is, what role you should play etc.

This is the tale of two meetings. Last week, I wasn’t sure what the objective of a meeting with several VPs was. I had a meeting with my manager prior to the meeting to find out the expectations. Because we had this talk, when someone asked about cost, even though I knew the amount, I remained quiet. My peer is in repair mode. She had a similar situation in the past.  She answered the questioned and in doing so, realized she angered the team. The valuable lesson, talk before the meeting to find out expectations and who should play what role. This is business, not brunch. There is some expectation for the meeting and a business outcome. How do you get there? Meet before the meeting.

Know Your Goal

How do you start to take calculated risks? It starts with your goal. Knowing where you want to go. This provides you with a framework for risk taking. Ask, if successful, will this bring me closer to my goal? With so many options, it can be easy to get distracted. Think of it as shopping for an outfit to do a major presentation. You focus on key items to give you a polished looked. You may go to a specific boutique or section of women’s wear that you know is appropriate. You want to make sure you don’t end up with a collection of pieces that will not yield a usable business outfit. As you consider what risks to take, make sure they support the goal. So yes, when I volunteered as a replacement to do a workshop the day before traveling for an international meeting it was a risk. But it supported my goal to establish myself as a consultant for teaming and collaboration, so it was worth the risk.  Use caution, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. You have limited time and resources; use them wisely in a manner that will support your goal.

Do the Math

At this point, you know your goal and you have an opportunity that supports that goal. You know that taking action that will not harm existing relationships. How do you calculate the risk? Think of it this way. You love to horseback riding. Someone offers you a horse for a year. The short version of the story is, it will cost you nothing, you can ride all you want. You just have to feed and groom the horse daily and clean the stall. Something is an incredible opportunity and you can get it. It all seems good, but you’ll be uncomfortable with the outcome? The offer of the horse is great, but what about the upkeep for the horse? Sure you could try to get that assignment in Budapest but would you be comfortable and able to relocate to Hungary for a year? Consider if this outcome is successful, will it may move me closer to my goal. Is this something I am willing and able to do? If the answer is no, don’t take that risk. However, there are times when your history has prepared you for the risk. Someone needs to prepare a business case. You may not have done one before, but you are familiar with the project, you actually did a lot of the research and you know three people who do business cases all the time, you’re pretty sure one if not all three will help you, So, at that moment in the meeting, go ahead and take the risk and take on the project.

For me, I do that version of headstand all the time, it’s just a matter of finding that spot of balance and focus. That pose was no more of risk for me than walking. Yes, to move forward, you do take risks. Recognize there is a difference between being terrified to take an action versus uncomfortable with the outcome. Take the risk; you will probably succeed more than you fail. Don’t fear the failure. Learn from it and take the risks.