Managing Risk in a Digital World

By Aliah D. Wright Jul 2, 2014

ORLANDO, FLA.—Every organization needs to think about, and be prepared to manage, the risks associated with operating in the digital era—whether social media is part of the organization’s strategic agenda or not, speaker Courtney Shelton Hunt, Ph.D., told attendees during her session titled “Managing Risk in the Digital Era at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition.

Hunt is founder and principal of The Denovati Group, a digital consultancy.

“A lot of senior leaders don’t think about the importance of risk from a digital perspective,” she said. “But every organization needs to think about how they’re going to manage risk in a digital era.” Today, she said, “it’s the cost of doing business.”

It can also be a competitive differentiator, she said, setting “organizations apart from competitors—especially in the war for talent.”

Research backs her assertions.

According to a new McKinsey Global Survey, The Digital Tipping Point, released in June 2014, “Many respondents agree that their companies’ digital programs are growth-oriented, that future spending on digital will increase, and that a large portion of future company growth will be driven by digital efforts,” the report states. “But organizational challenges and a dearth of talent are common, significant hurdles that prevent companies from scaling up their digital efforts or seeing clear returns on their investments. So are limited accountability and a poor understanding of potential value.”

So, too, is a poor understanding of managing digital risk.

Hunt listed a set of best practices for organizations to manage the risks of employees engaging in inappropriate behaviors on social sites, clicking on suspect links in e-mails or online, or inadvertently divulging corporate secrets.

Those best practices include:

  • Realize that policies have to be customized to reflect the culture and operating attributes of the organization.
  • Include staff from across the organization to develop guidelines and policies.
  • Administer interactive training for all workers so they understand their rights and responsibilities.
  • Reassess guidelines and policies at least once a year to make sure they are up-to-date.

Hunt warned that “Most organizations—even those that are highly engaged with social media and other digital technologies—are not addressing digital-era risks as comprehensively or deeply as they could or should.”

She also added that “Social media is ‘just’ a communications tool like a nuclear power plant is ‘just’ a way to turn on the lights.” Both are so powerful they are likely to stay here forever. And “even if these [social] networks go away, the behaviors won’t.” Therefore, companies need to mitigate the use of social media and digital equipment use through policy and employee training.

“Both employees and managers need to understand the new rules [such as think before you click, and be mindful of the impact your social sharing may have on your reputation and the reputations of others] and how the old rules [sexual harassment, the sharing of proprietary information, etc.] apply in the new era.”

Companies, she said, “should build as much durability into the policies and guidelines and agreements as possible. Make sure the policies are robust,” so they can apply to current and future technologies, too. “Think beyond social media to a digital media awareness and risk management strategy.”

Additionally, consider addressing these issues in digital risk policies:

  • Device management and safety.
  • Cybersecurity (hacking, cyber theft).
  • Phishing, viruses, data protection.
  • E-mail usage.

Companies should also consider using dramatic examples of what can go wrong when employees aren’t careful in their digital usage by “connecting it in terms of ‘what’s in it for me’,” Hunt suggested.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013).


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