Since the 1980s, academics have worked to define the practices and methodologies of high-reliability organizations (HROs). These are enterprises that execute consistent and sustainable operations by creating a culture that anticipates and minimizes variation and implements high-quality decision making and controls.
In other words, these researchers sought to learn how HROs stayed safe despite operating in high-risk conditions. What sets them apart and how can we operationalize their success factors across industry?
Academics and researchers dug in, working to answer these questions and define the standout activities found in HROs. A bevy of anecdotes, individual behaviors, and “habits” were described with the hope that other organizations could adopt them and create similar cultures executing “consistent and sustainable operations.” But like so many good intentions, the execution failed to meet the vision. Leaders striving to transplant the success of HROs into their own companies found their efforts dying on the vine.
Why? Why did the lessons learned fail to transfer between companies? What were people getting wrong?
The problem was largely a practical one. The traditional approach to learning from HROs focused too much on individual behaviors, which were helpful but hard (if not impossible) to operationalize. Moreover, the definitions of what HROs were doing right—the success narratives and best practices—proved to be too academic. While good in theory, they failed to help leaders learn from the high-reliability organizations and translate their expertise into on-the-ground practices that truly changed performance and outcomes.
We have taken a different tack. Rather than focus on individual behaviors found in HROs, we have identified key organizational practices that systemically mitigate risk. Through our work and research, we have distilled our findings into four measurable disciplines that together support the technical and operational aspects of safety performance in high-risk conditions.
Please download our infographic Measuring the 4 Core Disciplines of Safety to learn what HROs are getting right and how your organization can leverage their success to build on your own.