Friday, July 27, 2012

Errors, misjudgments and dishonesty-Top 10 Leader Behaviors that Create a High Reliability Culture

A couple of days ago I outlined systemic barriers leaders can create to minimize error and associated risk.  Yesterday I also outlined processes leaders can implement that can help create a high reliability culture.  The US Army's After Action, Review, Root Cause Analysis and the teaching hospital's Morbidity and Mortality conference are examples.  Embedding these processes as a way of doing business over a long period of time can help create the culture.  In addition to systems and processes there are individual and team behaviors that help create the culture.  I mentioned some of these back in April when discussing how to make a diverse team effective. My top 10 leader behaviors that create a high reliability culture are:
1. Designate a "devil's advocate". A very senior person told me not long ago that in his board meetings he designates a devil's advocate to present a challenge to an emerging convergence of opinion.  A retired US Army three-star general told me last week he successfully used the same technique
2. Know the style preferences and cultural nuances of your team members. Rather than open dialogue, designate someone to lead the conversation who might otherwise defer to an assertive, first mover.
3. "Listen for silence". This is especially important in teleconferences. If you haven't heard someone for some time on a conversation, invite their voice in.
4. Know your people well enough to detect non-verbal signs of discomfort. "Tom, I can tell you aren't comfortable with the way this conversation is headed. Can you share with us what you are thinking?"
5. Master the engagement skills of Inquiry, Advocacy, Mental Models and the Ladder of Inference. A short reference is at this link.
6. Daniel Kahneman even suggests team members write out their point of view on agenda items before dialogue starts. It's not practical for every agenda item in every meeting but for certain issues it is quite useful.
7. Be choiceful about when you express your point of view. If you truly are seeking divergence on an issue, guide the conversation but also let it flow. If you have a strong point of view, acknowledge it up front and invite challenge. How you handle the challenge is will determine to the degree to which people are later willing to do so. If you hammer dissenting views into submission, don't expect challenges to your thinking in the future. If you do have a strong point of view, withhold it and then later hammer disagreement into submission, don't expect much conversation in the future until you have spoken.
8. Watch for weak signals that challenge your own mental models. This can be especially important in mature teams where the leader's attitudes and views are well known and shared. This makes it even harder to surface a dissenting view.
9.  Be careful not to dismiss the message because of the messenger.  I call this the "chicken little' problem.  For those  who don't know, there is a fable in which a chicken gets hit in the head by an acorn and concludes the sky is falling.  Chicken Little convinces others the sky is falling and, depending on the version of the fable, everyone meets an unpleasant end.  It's central lesson is that some people are unreasonably afraid and try to incite unreasonable fear in others.  There are "chicken littles" in every organization who see every challenge, barrier and risk.  The problem is, sometimes they are right.
10.  Pay attention to the "been there, tried that, didn't work" curmudgeon at the end of the table.  There was a time when I resented the "curmudgeon"..."they slow things down", "they are risk averse", "they are living in the past" .  There is a temptation to dismiss their contribution, however they are often the institutional source of organizational learning.  They can help the leader keep from "reinventing the wheel.'

The point is there are individual leader behaviors and team behaviors the leader can encourage that generate the trust that....combined with systems and processes leads to a high reliability culture.

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