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Flow 
Patrick Hudson is one of the worldís leading authorities on the human factor in the management of safety. I found the podcast interview with Patrick Hudson by Australian safety expert Andrew Barrett by chance. Barrett's website "Safety on tap" brings us interviews with interesting and inspiring people with different ideas, perspectives and stories.

In his podcast, Hudson praises James Reason and Ron Westrum for providing inspiration for his work. Sometimes, new thinkers on safety and safety culture forget that. It's important not to forget that we all are building on the safety foundations that were built by others before us. 
I had never heard of Ron Westrum before listening to the 'Safety on tap' podcast. Westrum built the 'Three cultures model' on which most organisational culture 'ladders' are based. The organisational culture 'ladder' model is taught in all courses on Safety Management Systems.

Part of the Foundation's work is connection safety policy makers and safety professionals to research that is what this article attempts to do - here we go.
Culture can be best understood as "the way we do things around here". Culture forms the context within which people judge how appropriate their behaviour is. An organisation's culture will influence behaviour and performance at work.
An organisation's culture has a very big impact on the safety performance of an organisation. 'Safety culture' is a subset of the overall organisational culture. Many companies talk about 'safety culture' when referring to the preference of their employees to comply with rules or act safety or unsafely. Poor safety culture has contributed to many major incidents and personal injuries.

Next to the culture, the style of management is even more significant, for example a (unconscious) preference of production over safety, or a tendency to focus on the short-term and being highly reactive. Success normally comes from good leadership, good worker involvement and good communications. And all these three factors relate to flow. Flow of information.

Westrum's work found that failures in information flow figure prominently in many major accidents. Information flow is an indication of the maturity of a positive safety culture. In some organisations, information flows well, and brings out prompt and appropriate responses. In others, it is hoarded for internal, political reasons or it fades away due to bureaucratic barriers.
The conditions that create good information flow tend to be those that favour cooperation, creativity and safety. On the other side, conditions that interfere with information flow such as holding on to information for political reasons, also tend to decrease creativity, create conflict, and make the organisation involved less safe.

Leaders shape a unitís culture. Leaders communicate what they feel is important with their symbolic actions, as well as with rewards and punishments. These preferences then become the focus of the organisationís staff, because rewards, punishments and resources follow the leaderís preferences. Those who align with the preferences will be rewarded, and those who do not may be set aside.

There are three typical patterns that relate to information flow.
The first pattern, also called the pathological pattern by Westrum, is a preoccupation with personal power, needs, and glory. The second, called the bureaucratic pattern, is a preoccupation with rules, positions, and departmental turf. The third is a concentration on the mission itself, as opposed to a concentration on persons or positions. Westrum calls this third pattern the generative pattern.
When bureaucratic organisations need to get information to the right recipient, they are likely to use the standard channels or procedures. These standard channels and procedures are often insufficient in a crisis.

By contrast, in the same circumstances many generative organisations would cross departmental lines or use a back channel to get the information to where it was needed. Studies have shown information flow is higher in a generative culture, where managers see themselves as coaches rather than commanders.

Next to various courses and initiatives aimed at creating and facilitating (a just) safety culture, the Foundation has brought leadership training on board of its portfolio. This so that we can assist organisations to move to a management style that works best to achieve a mature safety culture. One that is focussed on a good and transparent flow of information.

This is just another example of how the Foundation connects research to safety policy makers and safety professionals.
Interested to learn more? Please join us in one of our upcoming courses in Eastern Africa later this year.
Contact us for more information.
Best aviation regards, Tom

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