Tag Archives: high reliability organizations

The Five Keys to Building a ‘High-Reliability’ Organization

Think about the challenges that face those in charge of a nuclear aircraft carrier. It:

  • Is manned by a bunch of 20-year olds.
  • Has jets with engines that can suck a person into the intake if the person is too close.
  • Has planes whose exhaust can severely burn a man or blow him overboard.
  • Deploys jet fighters that reach 150 mph in 2 seconds during takeoff.
  • Executes landings that essentially are controlled crashes.
  • Must fuel aircraft with engines running.
  • Handles all manner of explosive materials.

Yet, for all the hazards, accidents on flight decks are surprisingly rare. Because so many things could go wrong but almost never do, experts consider an aircraft carrier a “high reliability organization.” The clarity about individual responsibility and about how to function as a team is astounding.

Many of us have been involved in projects where the stakes have been high and we have had to prepare to an exceptional level and pay attention to every detail. But think of what is needed to enable this level of performance every day!

I have to admit I have not seen the level of high reliability you find on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in very many mid-market businesses. Let’s face it. For businesses, the stakes are not as high as they are on a flight deck. But the principle is there for us to apply – clarity and preparedness escalates the predictability of success. And I’ve seen the principle work for units in a business that had really embraced continuous improvement.

Look at your business organization. Think about this outline of preparedness for each business unit (BU):

  1. Prepare the description of the 3-5 most important functions of each BU (that contribute to key results for success).
  2. What is necessary for each function to be performed optimally?
  3. What should the measured results be for each results area (success criteria)?
  4. What processes should be used to assure timely, accurate, high-quality performance?
  5. How will customer satisfaction (internal & external) and targeted results be measured and achieved?

How high do the stakes have to get for us to shift into a higher mode of clarity and preparedness? As business leaders, we are the ones who get to make that decision.

If this is an area of leadership you would like to read more about, email me and I will send you my white paper on PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT – Accountability Based Job Performance.