The CEO of Airways Corporation Ed Sims is a champion of a Just Culture, which he says is a well-accepted and understood philosophy which can change each time an organisation adopts it. It's a reasonably well known concept in operational businesses particularly where workers are remote, rostered and collectivised.
Airways' business is ensuring safe and efficient skies across the 30 million square kilometres of New Zealand's airspace and, as Sims writes on the company blog, in the aviation industry mistakes can have dire consequences.
Airways has taken a strong lead in the implementation of Just Culture standards in New Zealand which means "anyone who self-reports an unintended mistake isn't subject to penalties. Our people are instead congratulated for reporting a concern and taking ownership of a mistake," he wrote.
"Acknowledging the contribution of employees who make proactive reports, and ensuring there are no negative consequences for reporting unintentional mistakes, has had a huge impact on our reporting rates. It has built trust and engagement with staff, and helped us get to the root causes of incidents much faster. It is important, however, to maintain a clear distinction between deliberate or premeditated actions versus a simple mistake. A Just Culture doesn't mean a 'no blame' culture, and reckless or rogue behaviour is not tolerated in our safety critical air traffic control industry."
Sims told Management that a Just Culture within Airways has been well accepted and it's a great way of ensuring accountability for an employee's actions, right across the organisation. But it may be that the accountability is not an individual's responsibility, and the blame may lie with system or organisational problems.
He says any organisation could, and should, embrace a Just Culture but may need to customise it to be more effective so you can deliver it in a manner that applies to your workforce.
They have used it at Airways for the past six years and where they have had significant events they track the effectiveness of the standards by a lack of a negative reaction by staff or management.
Sims says they are very thorough in the way they investigate things and by the time they evaluate where the accountability sits the effectiveness of the culture is measured by the fact that people do not feel they have been made a scapegoat.
"Where there has been a failure we are able to investigate that failure and we have become much more of a learning organisation."
As to what he would say to other CEOs around Just Culture, it is that you need to take ownership and need persistence. It has to be led by the CEO and the workforce expects that ownership.
"It's not an easy journey to go through and there are countless iterations."
On the Airways blog Sims wrote that proactive incident reporting is like gold to a company like Airways "because it enables us to flush out, learn from, and eliminate potential problems before they do any harm or there is an incident. In our business where maintaining safe skies critical, Just Culture is a must and not an optional extra".