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Resilience - Learning from High Reliability Organisations
Monday, 09 July 2012 13:33

We don't really know what lies around the corner, and being unable to predict the future requires organisations to be able to sidestep or bounce back quickly from disruption.

So called High Reliability Organisations (HROs) are characterised by common traits that mark them out from the rest; indeed they are the sorts of organisations whose operations are complex, innately risky and should be prone to catastrophic failure - yet they seldom fail. If they do, they are equipped to bounce back quickly. So what is it that makes them different and what can we learn from them? Here are some thoughts:

1. They pay a great deal of attention to avoiding failure. They have simple and effective feedback mechanisms and horizon scanning processes. They both spot and react to early pre crisis 'tremors' that many would ignore.

2. They are capable of handling complexity and turbulence and so resist the need to over simplify. This means they avoid being overwhelmed and don't miss vital information. They achieve this through developing experience in training and scenario testing.

3. They are operationally focused. There is absolute clarity of purpose and clarity over where the focus of effort is. This enables a fine-tuning of situational awareness through focus on what's really critical and what the associated risks are.

4. They defer to expertise, whether that's internal or external. This applies at all levels within the organisation - the chiefs listen to the expertise of indians and they defer to it.

5. HRO's are imbued with 'collective mindfulness' whereby their culture means that resilience and continuity are always in the collective psyche. It's also a culture of teamwork and cooperation that means all hands are on the rope and pulling in the same direction, and if anything threatens that effort, its flagged and acted upon.

Air traffic control operations. aircraft carriers and nuclear power stations are all places where these traits are generally present; things should and could go wrong - but they seldom do. Now we know part of the reason why.


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