Why Communication is Important to Success in an Organization

By Mike Schwartz, MS, ATP, A&P

In aviation, the worst thing we can imagine is the loss of an aircraft and life in a mishap.  We have the ability to place a value on the aircraft and the loss of life, projected revenue and residual effects of the accident.  It becomes much more difficult to put a value on the loss of corporate image.  Most of us have worked hard to develop a brand image for our organizations and strive to grow that image in the public’s eye.  But what is the value of a damaged corporate image? 

This article is not about aircraft accidents or even the value of a corporate image but rather communication within an organization.     

Effective communications are a two way street in any organization.  They must start from top management, the business owner, CEO, Board of Directors, Chief Pilot, or supervisor at a particular location.  Communication needs to be transparent, straight forward and honest.  It must convey the desires and demands of management to the employees so they know exactly what is expected of them in the performance of their jobs.  It must also convey any challenges that the organization is experiencing and proposed methods of working through those challenges.  Top management should also communicate how decisions were made and the considerations used in the decision process.  This is not meant to imply that all decisions must be shared with the employee groups, but those decisions that have a direct effect on them and the work they perform.

While communication from top management to employees is important, perhaps even more critical to the success of an organization is communication from the employees to top management.  Employees are an important information source in an organization.  They are on the front lines, performing the tasks that are crucial to the organization’s success.  They have firsthand knowledge of what works and what is in need of redesign, and quite often, they have the ideas and the ability to redesign a process to improve efficiency.

In order for communications to be effective, an organization needs to develop and maintain an environment that encourages employees to report hazards, issues and concerns, as well as accidents and incidents that occur in the work place.  Employees should also be encouraged to suggest and recommend solutions to the problems they identify. 

One way to foster this reporting is by establishing a confidential employee reporting system.  In commercial aviation, ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program) development provides this employee feedback and also ensures that issues are addressed in a confidential setting.  One limitation to ASAP is that not all employee groups may be represented.  Companies that do not have ASAP’s may consider providing employees with a hotline, a suggestion box, or computer based submission forms.  One confidential reporting system is the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS).  This system may be used by certificated employees involved in aviation to report issues or concerns effecting aircraft operation.  ASRS may provide limited immunity in the form of waivers of sanctions for reported events with certain restrictions.  When using this reporting system, the company may not have any idea that a problem exists as no direct feedback is provided by ASRS.

As you develop and employ a confidential reporting program and utilize this input in decision making, employees will begin to trust the system and work towards resolving systemic problems. This in turn will lead to increased employee participation and greater input for operational decision making.

Now a confidential employee reporting program is not a pass for a flagrant violation of federal regulations or company policies and procedures.  Unacceptable behavior by an employee requires disciplinary action that is appropriate for the employee’s actions.

The fastest way to eliminate an employee reporting system in your organization is by failing to provide feedback to the employee groups that have submitted reports.  By failing to provide feedback you demonstrate that input by employees is not appreciated or wanted.  The employees will quickly learn that management is not interested in their concerns and will quit reporting issues. 

Another way to kill communication in an organization is to fire the messenger.  If you do not like the message or the way it is delivered, just get rid of the messenger.  That communicates to the workforce that management is not interested in what they have to say. As stated above, they will stop reporting issues and your organization will continue to suffer. 

Feedback does not come only from employees but also from customers.  If you fail to answer their emails, phone calls, or feedback, they will take their business elsewhere and your organization will suffer from the loss of business.  Some studies have said that if you upset one customer, they tell at least four friends about how they were treated. 

When management loses touch with what is happening in the field, it is unable to identify downward trends before problems occur.  And that has a direct effect on your bottom line and corporate image.

A Just Culture and Why it’s Important to Your Business

By Mike Schwartz, MS, ATP, A&P 

 

Many of us that work at airports have seen aircraft that have experienced some hangar 

rash.   If it happens to a light single engine aircraft, the damage might not be too 

expensive to repair, but if it happens to a private jet, well the costs are significantly 

higher, not to mention the loss of revenue from not being available for dispatch.  How 

did your organization handle this situation?  

 

Aviation has a reputation of being intolerant of error.  It is not uncommon to work in an 

environment where everyone knew that if you made a mistake, you would be fired.  This 

is known as “holding the person accountable for their actions.”  In fact when you hear 

“hold the person accountable” you can usually substitute “termination for making a 

mistake.”   

 

Instead of being reactive and punitive, what if we took a step back and analyzed what 

caused the mistake to occur in the first place. We should ask questions that would lead 

to the primary cause of the event.  Some questions we should be asking are:

  • What led to the incident? What can we be doing better?
  • Did management have enough personnel on shift to safely perform the task?  
  • What about training?  Did it stop at “Don’t scratch a plane or you will be terminated?”  Yes, I have actually heard that said in training.  

A “just culture” is one where employees are given the benefit of the doubt.  

Management assumes positive intent on the part of the employee.  Procedures are 

routinely monitored and evaluated to ensure that they are effective and employees are 

provided the correct tools to do their jobs.  Inefficient procedures are improved upon 

and unsafe practices are removed from use. 

 

While no business can afford to pay claims as a result of accidents, can it afford to 

replace skilled employees that have made a mistake? Perhaps a better question to ask 

is, “Can the company afford to replace an employee that made a mistake because they 

were set up for failure?”  I am willing to bet that the best employee you will have is the 

one that made a mistake and that you provided remedial training. I am sure they won’t 

make the same mistake in the future.  As an example, if a pilot gets task saturated 

during a complicated instrument approach and forgets to put the gear down and lands 

the aircraft on the belly, do you think they will ever do that again?  I believe they will 

NEVER want to hear the sound of metal on asphalt and will do everything humanly 

possible to never get in that situation again.

 

Now a just culture does not mean that management must turn a blind eye to everything 

that employees do. A just culture also requires the organization to provide employees a 

list of unacceptable behaviors.  Violations of these behaviors should be dealt with swiftly 

and appropriately.  

 

  James Reason, in his 1997 book Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents 

provides a decision tree that can be utilized to determine the culpability of unsafe acts.

This flow chart provides a good process for management to follow when deciding 

appropriate actions to take when an incident occurs.  

 

When investigating an accident or incident, it is important to keep the focus of the 

investigation on the system or processes in place so that the focus remains on objective 

facts that can be used to identify system deficiencies.  This information, when properly 

utilized can help prevent future recurrences and improve system reliability.  The key 

here is to focus on “why the event happened”, not on “who did it.”  In a just culture, it is 

important to distinguish between error and intentional or willful non-compliant actions.

 

When establishing a just culture in your organization, it is also important to have an 

environment where employees feel comfortable reporting safety or operational 

information to management.  Front line employees are usually in the best position to 

identify hazards, issues and processes that are unsafe or inadequate.  Policies that 

encourage employee reporting can result in recommendations and suggestions by 

those best suited to carry them out. 

 

When you focus on correcting substandard system processes and not on deficient 

employee performance, you will improve operations throughout your organization.  And 

everyone benefits from this.

 

NOTE from EasyFBO:  This is the first of a series of posts intended to be beneficial to your FBO business.  Thanks to Mike Schwartz for kicking it off!