Weick and Sutcliffe's Principles of HROs
Like Roberts and Rousseau, Weick and Sutcliffe, two other pioneers in HRO research, also studied nuclear aircraft carriers, hostage negotiation teams, and wildland firefighting crews. They developed a model, with a focus on mindfulness, for HROs based on the distinctive features of the organizations. Mindfulness is "a rich awareness of discriminatory details." 1 That is, HROs should have a detailed understanding of rising threats and on causes that interfere with such understanding. With mindfulness they see the significance in weak signals and take action vigorously.
>Their model explains how teams interact with each other and their environment to achieve high reliability. The researchers point out that HROs do not necessary see discrepancies more quickly; rather they understand their meaning more fully and deal with them more confidently. (Weick et al 2007) Five principles divided into two categories, anticipation and containment. Describe HROs. In anticipation, the first category, HROs focus on the prevention of disruptive unexpected events, while in containment they work to prevent unwanted outcomes after unexpected events have occurred. 1
There are three principles in anticipation:
- Preoccupied with failure
First, HROs are preoccupied with failure. Failures are embraced, even weak signals, in order to take action to stop further damage from occurring, to learn why it happened, and to know how prevent the failure from happening again. HRO strategies spell out mistakes that are unlikely but possible due to the human aspect in HROs. They look relentlessly for symptoms of malfunctioning as they may be a clue to additional failures elsewhere in the system. They are suspicious of quiet periods and obsessed with success liabilities, such as overconfidence.
- Reluctant to simplify
Second, HROs are reluctant to simplify. Although categories are unavoidable, they are carried lightly. HROs simplify slowly, reluctantly, and mindfully. They create more complex pictures of situations, while encouraging spanning of boundaries, negotiating, skepticism, and differences in opinions. Due to their reluctance the details preserved and the needs for simplification are reduced.
- Sensitive to operations
The third, and final, principle in anticipation is sensitivity to operations. HROs are responsive to the messy reality inside most systems. That is, they look at what the organization is actually doing regardless of what they were supposed to do based on intentions, designs, and plans. They offer attentiveness to those on the front line and acknowledge that an accident is often not the result of a single active error. Rather HROs see that accidents are caused by errors lying latent in the system.
The second category in Weick and Sutcliffe's model is containment. HROs admit that unexpected events sometimes happen so they move into containment to prevent unwanted outcomes after an unexpected event has occurred. As Weick and Sutcliffe state, "Reliable outcomes require the capabilities to sense the unexpected in a stable manner and yet deal with the unexpected in a variable manner."1 The two principles in containment are:
- Commitment to resilience
With a commitment to resilience HROs are able to identify, control, and recover from errors. They correct them before they worsen and cause more serious harm; therefore system continues to operate despite failures. HROs practice worst case scenarios and learn from failures. They know they have not experienced all possible failures, so they must be continually wary of failures.
- Deference to expertise
The second principle in containment is deference to expertise. In HROs expertise is not necessarily matched with a chain of command. In fact, some decisions are made on the front line. HROs make an effort to see what people on their frontlines know and encourage communication of expertise from all levels. "In a macho world, asking for help or admitting that you're in over your head, is frowned upon. Good HROs see it as a sign of strength to know when you've reached your limits of your knowledge and know enough to ask for help." 1
1. Weick, Karl and Katherine Sutcliffe. 2007. Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in the Age of Uncertainty. 2nd ed. San Francisco:John Wiley &Sons, Inc.