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All I needed to know about ORM I learned in golf

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The golfer squints in the morning sun, breathes deeply of the cool eucalyptus-scented air and thinks ORM.

See, our avid golfer is practicer and practitioner of operational risk management.  ORM is his means to a simple end; he wants to eliminate unnecessary strokes from his game.

Throughout his game, he will plan ahead for his shot, take his swing and watch where the ball goes to see if he planned right.  Out on the greens, the golfer will accept no risk that would cost him extra strokes.  He might not even know it, but he is using the six steps of ORM.

Identify Hazards
On this hole, our golfer has hit a flush, or near-perfectly struck, tee shot on a short par 4.  The ball has travelled far.  Now he's in trouble.  A sand trap sits 130 yards away on the fairway between him and the green.  But what our golfer can't see can hurt him too.  On the far side of the green, the ground slopes down to a creek.  If he hits it flush again, he could wind up in the water.

The first ORM step makes the golfer consider hazards based on what he can see, what he can imagine, what his experience dictates and what advice he chooses to follow.  He must identify any real or potential dangers which could damage his mission--to score as low as he can. 

Assess Risk
With the bunker in his way, our golfer knows that getting stuck in the sand will compromise his mission--to minimize strokes taken.  While the sand could cost him strokes, a two-stroke penalty from ending up in the water could be worse.  

He thinks of the second ORM step, and asks, what do I have to lose?  The key is to see things realistically.  Optimism or idealism can cause the strokes to add up quickly.

Analyze Risk Control
Our golfer looks at his options.  He has to decide which option is the worst outcome.  Rather than trying a risky shot, he may decide to lay-up.  While it would not be a bold move, it would take the bunker and the creek out of play.  Or he can go for it and try to make it to the green in one shot. 

After years of practice, he's pretty good at getting out of the sand.  And he'd lose two strokes in the water.  Being in the sand would moderately impact his score.  Plunking in the creek would be catastrophic.

Make Control Decision
He considers his deciding factors, the fourth step.  If he goes for it, he could one putt for a birdie.  Even if he hit in the sand, he could get out in one stoke and one putt for par.  It's highly unlikely he would hit over the green and wind up in the creek.  And he knows that if he takes the low-risk lay up, he would still have to chip; and with a one putt, he would still only make par.

He goes for it.

Implement Risk Control
Everything he does during ORM step five is based on the planning and decisions he has made up to now.  His fingers grab the blade of a five-iron from his bag.  He taps the blade into the grass behind the ball.  Lines up.  Aims for his target.  Center of the green, below the pin.  He feels the air for wind and relaxes.  Starts the backswing.  The hands come down.

Supervise and Review
The ball is airborne.  Our golfer can do nothing but watch.  Notice how he implements the sixth and final ORM step.  By watching the ball sail, bounce and roll, he can determine if he made a good choice.  At the end of the round, he can look back on his game and ask, "How well did I play?"  Faced with the same situation in the future, he can use his experience he gained today to decide if the benefit was worth the cost, the fundamental reason for using ORM.

"Bite," he says anxiously.  "Bite!"  The ball falls on the green with a thunk, leaves a mark and barely rolls.  A bold risk pays off with the chance for a birdie.

Our golfer isn't the only one who uses ORM to manage operations at the least possible cost.  Meeting the standard is simply par for the course.  Exceeding the standards is made real through use of ORM.