Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Changing Culture: Speaking Up at Boeing

Source: Wikipedia

Julie Johnsson wrote a story for Bloomberg this week about the attempted cultural transformation at Boeing.   The company has faced an uphill struggle trying to address safety deficiencies in the aftermath of the 737 MAX crashes and productio
n troubles with its best-selling Dreamliner. As many have documented (including in my case study about the 737 MAX), Boeing seemed to be characterized by an enviroment of low psychological safety in which engineers were reluctant to speak up about safety concerns. The article focuses on efforts led by Chief Aerospace Safety Officer Michael Delaney to transform the culture and improve problem detection in the manufacturing and engineering operations at the firm. Here's an excerpt from Johnsson's story:

Delaney, who took over the newly created position last year, is trying to instill a more open and transparent culture where employees speak up without fear of retaliation. That’s one facet of a larger framework he’s putting in place, known as a safety management system, that uses data and other tools to address risks before they flare into broader issues.  His deputy, Al Madar, pointed to one counterintuitive sign the approach is starting to take root: Boeing saw a record number of safety reports filed by employees in March and April.  “That data tells me what we’re doing is working,” said Madar, who oversaw American Airlines Group Inc.’s operational safety program before joining Boeing.

This point about the data is very important for any organization on a journey to improve quality and detect problems or errors more effectively.  Remember that improving pscyhological safety is often a key element of a program aimed at improving product/service quality.   In the early stages of a successful effort to enhance psychological safety, reports will (and often should) show MORE reports of incidents or problems, not fewer.   At first, these data may seem alarming. Could quality or safety actually be getting worse?    Actually, the rise in reported incidents typically means people are becoming more comfortable speaking up and sharing their concerns.  A failure to see a rise in reported incidents would be concerning, as it would indicate that perhaps people are still reluctant to come forward with bad news.   Naturally, you need to examine other metrics to be sure that the rise in reported incidents does not represent a serious deterioration in your operations.  Hopefully, some additional research will reveal that incident reporting is being driven by higher levels of psychological safety. 

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