Is Your Organization Moving Toward High Reliability? [SlideShare]

By Lowers & Associates,

High Reliability Organizations (HROs) offer benchmarks for other organizations and systems whose missions are critical but operate in challenging high-risk environments. Successful HROs offer insights on operations, culture, performance, and evaluation that can be adapted to other organizations to improve the reliability of achieving objectives.

Early research on HROs attempted to understand how organizations such as aircraft carriers and the air traffic control system could continuously produce desired outcomes despite the high uncertainties of input conditions (environment) and the inherent interdependence of operations. Observing these unlikely success stories led to the distillation of 5 principles:

• A preoccupation with failure.
• Reluctance to simplify.
• Sensitivity to operations.
• Commitment to resilience.
• Deference to expertise.

Recently, managers in less fraught, but still complex, organizations and systems have begun to adapt these principles to deliver a similar high reliability in outcomes. Among others, good candidates for applying the lessons of HROs include the cash management system and healthcare organizations and systems.

The Joint Commission on healthcare accreditation is sponsoring work to develop a path for healthcare organizations of various sorts to move toward high reliability outcomes. A 2013 Joint Commission paper by Mark Chassin and Jerod Loeb titled “High Reliability Healthcare: Getting There from Here” summarizes a process to move toward the goal. An important point it emphasizes is that the improvement is continuous: HROs seek perfection, but never finally reach it.

Chassin and Loeb lay out stages healthcare organizations might follow on the journey toward becoming an HRO. Other types of organizations would have to adapt these to their own circumstances, but they do provide a template for moving forward.

Our latest SlideShare, What makes a High Reliability Organization? provides deeper information about the 5 principles, and illustrates how they might be applied in your organization.

Take a look here:

Slideshow: What Makes a High Reliability Organization?

By Lowers & Associates,

High reliability organizations (HROs) operate within challenging conditions. Think of air traffic control, aircraft carriers, and nuclear power plants for clear examples of such conditions. Mistakes in these settings often have catastrophic consequences.

Yet they seldom fail.

HROs have the unique ability to deliver stunning reliability in complex environments. How do they do it? What makes an HRO? Our latest slideshow provides a glimpse inside. Read through it here:


[Infographic] Recognizing and Managing the Unpredictable

By Lowers & Associates,

One of the most fascinating things about High Reliability Organizations (HROs) is their paradoxical nature. Despite existing in potentially hostile conditions where factors not under their control can emerge at any moment, they achieve the capability to absorb the unexpected and continue operating successfully.

… Continue reading

7 Ways to Test the Reliability of Your Organization

By Lowers & Associates,

If you are a manager in an organization, especially one that faces a complex, dynamic environment, you should be interested in learning how the principles of the High Reliability Organization (HRO) can help you. Your aim should be to develop an organization that moves continuously toward greater reliability of critical outcomes, using every failure as an opportunity for improvement. … Continue reading

Organizational Resiliency: How Does the Way You Handle Mistakes Drive Reliability?

By Lowers & Associates,

One of the most common descriptions of the High Reliability Organization (HRO) is that it is “resilient.” Here is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines resilient:

  1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  2. The ability of a substance to spring back into shape; elasticity.

The definition points directly at two important characteristics of organizational resilience. First, organizations show resilience in response to a difficulty or deformity. Resilience is reactive, not predictive. Thus, it is not the kind of capacity that is based on a careful analysis of potential faults, with mitigating solutions pre-positioned to cope. In fact, the resilient organization will invent solutions to unexpected problems on the fly.

The second feature is that when an unexpected problem occurs, the elastic—resilient—organization will continue to function normally. It continues to produce desired outcomes despite the problem (and internalizes the solution so that a future response to the problem is even faster).

Weick and Sutcliffe summarize the resilient organization very clearly:

In moments of resilience, conditions vary yet the effect remains the same. That difference lies at the heart of a commitment to resilience.[1]

The “commitment to resilience” implies that the organization’s management and culture have the proper attitude toward unexpected conditions or failures. It emphasizes the central point that high reliability organizations (HROs) are not organizations that do not experience failure. Rather, they continue to generate the main outcomes of their mission despite failures.

To adapt to something unexpected, the people in the organization are ready to recognize the event for what it is, avoid complacent assumptions, and refuse to oversimplify or routinize—the problem before an effective solution is identified. This is a capacity that organizations with a commitment to resilience will develop over time.

Workers in resilient organizations will create innovative responses to failures as needed, almost improvising in real time. However, they are not working in an unstructured system when they do this. They need to have both exhaustive expertise regarding the portion of the organization affected by an event, and need the confidence to act as developed by prior empowering support from all levels of the hierarchy.

For a more complete review of the High Reliability Organization, download our newest whitepaper, Building a High Reliability Organization.

[1] Weick, Karl E. and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. Managing the Unexpected: Sustained Performance in a Complex World, 3rd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015. p. 98.

  Category: High Reliability Organizations
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