It is tempting to think of security only in negative terms, as something that is always lacking and never enough. However, in what could be called the “glass half full” version of this “glass half empty” view, there are management studies that have found that certain organizational structures can contribute significantly to the prevention of incidents and accidents. Interestingly, these so-called high-reliability organizations (a term coined by Todd M. LaPorte) often coincide with high-risk environments such as nuclear power plants and aircraft carriers. These organizations are characterized by high levels of technical competence and sustained performance, rewards for error discovery and correction, decentralized authority patterns, imagination and openness of leaders, and long-term investments into safety culture. In particular, these companies and agencies:
- Allow for errors in routine operations to learn for extreme events
- Use such routine behavior to respond to crises
- Allow for graceful degradation of systems
- Take advantage of interdependencies (as opposed to dependencies) as a resource
- Share experiences horizontally among members and teams
- Replace hierarchical control with vertical coordination
In short, instead of trying to avoid incidents or accidents at all cost (which will never be possible in the first place) these organizations have embraced dynamic adaptation as an organizational principle. When starting with everyday operations, this adaptive capacity becomes so much part of the organizational culture, of “the way we do things around here” that employees can’t even describe exactly how they achieve it when asked. This is a sign of a true high-reliability culture.
Our experts at novaturient can assist organizations in developing adaptive capacity in everyday operations and thus moving towards a sustainable and positive safety and security culture.