While providing risk advisory services to all kinds of clients as a Director in the Risk Advisory Services practice at Baker Tilly, Corey Parker also travels the globe as a FIFA assistant referee and works as a professional assistant referee in Major League Soccer (MLS) FIFA. In fact, Corey has been busy refereeing soccer games at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In this interview, Corey shares how his experiences from refereeing soccer at the highest level can be easily applied by business leaders as they think about navigating risks for their organization as it pursues its strategic objectives.

Corey juggles a lot as a valued business advisor and as a FIFA referee traveling the world. Both of those opportunities have provided incredible experiences that crossover between both roles. Whether overseeing a major competition or assisting business leaders in a global business environment, Corey recognizes that he has to recognize that every situation is different, with all kinds of unique risks potentially on the horizon.

That kind of mindset allows him to build upon experiences and learn from those as he moves forward, whether overseeing a major sporting event or coaching a client about risk management strategies helpful to their businesses. Soccer and advisory services present new and unique challenges constantly, which make both roles fun, exciting, educational, and an opportunity for continuous improvement.

Balancing Big-Picture and the Specifics

Being an MLS-level referee requires having a focus on the big-picture of the game while not losing sight of specific areas of the field. Risk leaders face that kind of same challenge – they need to focus on the enterprise-level, big picture risks for their organization while not ignoring specific areas of risk concern.

Corey shares how he approaches that balance as he oversees a soccer game, emphasizing the tremendous value of having other referees on the field with him collectively overseeing the game with multiple eyes on the field. Corey also highlights the importance of having a mindset that values constant feedback, adjustment, and improvement, appreciating the importance of constantly hitting the “reset” button to evaluate what has happened in the past, how change is occurring, and how that impacts going forward.

That kind of thinking applies to risk leaders, too, given we live and operate in a world that is complex, fast-paced and where uncertainties unfold rapidly triggering new and different risks all the time. Having a collaborative team of executives thinking and anticipating risks goes a long way in helping organizations navigate the ever-changing risk environment.

Preparation is key to being a successful referee so referees are armed with the information in their back packet to make informed decisions as the game unfolds. Business leaders are no different. They need to gather risk information, update the information, make business decisions with that risk insight, learn from those decisions, fine-tune and improve for the next time, to be better prepared for all the uncertainties that will emerge.

Focusing on Managing, but Not Over Managing Risks

A key role of a professional referee is to ensure the game is played by the rules. So, there is a compliance side to being a referee. At the same time, referees have to be careful that they don’t over manage the play of the game by calling out every single possible infraction, since doing so would make the game less enjoyable for players to play and spectators to watch.

Risk leaders face the same challenge in that they need to ensure the organization complies with “the rules” while at the same time not over managing the business by over responding to risks that might be present. Corey shares insights about how he manages that tension as a FIFA referee and how similar techniques and mindset might be used by risk leaders as they think about risks and the need for response.

Referees go into each match thinking about the match, the styles of play that may differ, and what risks may come forward so they are prepared in advance. A framework of preparation is key not only to refereeing, but also to overseeing risks. Preparing in advance helps ERM leaders better understand a risk so they don't overreact to risks when suddenly surprised by what emerges. Preparation, feedback and adjustment are key.

Being Present, But Not Center of Attention

In some ways, referees want to be invisible to the game so they aren’t the focus of the game becoming a distraction that disrupts the enjoyment of the competition. Similarly, ERM leaders need to be present, but not the center of attention as they help business leaders manage their risks.  Corey talks about how a goal of a referee is to make sure things work as the rules are intended so that the game is a fair and successful experience for all stakeholders involved. That requires taking the time to prepare in advance by thinking about risks that might emerge so they are proactively ready to address those risks as they occur.

He notes how ERM leaders also have to do their homework in advance of meeting with business leaders. Investing the time to understand the business and gather information in advance can help ERM leaders engage in rich, informed discussions with business leaders so that those leaders value the perspectives of the ERM leader and see them as a business partner rather than a roadblock to strategic decisions and success. The more prepared and consistent ERM leaders are in their actions helps them gather and use information from across the business that they can carry forward in discussions with other business leaders across the organization. That leads to the embrace of ERM leaders without making them the center of attention.

Collaboration and Teamwork are Critical

Approaching a soccer game or advising an enterprise on how to think about risks is a team sport that benefits greatly from collaboration among individuals. Every game and company situation is different – each present different challenges that require multiple lenses to address. That reality is true whether refereeing a major soccer game at the Olympic level or advising a global organization about risks to its strategy. There is no one-size-fits all. It takes time to build the support needed to have a robust, value-adding ERM process.

Preparation is key to being a referee or an ERM leader.

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ERM Enterprise Risk Management Initiative 2021-09-14