High Reliability Organizations

If you read the other postings about "Trial and Error and Succeed" and "Hallmark of a Great Organization Is Safety in Failure." you will sense a theme there.

It is about safety, experimentation, learning, and collaboration. These are all hallmarks of a "Generative Culture."

What Is A High-Reliability Organization
Generative Cultures are what I like to refer to as High-Reliability Organizations. They are reliable to their employees, they are reliable to their customers, and they are reliable in their pursuit of performance improvement. Contrast this with bureaucratic/hierarchical organizations whose only reliability is being a pain in the rear for communicating or accomplishing any form of change. Or as another contrast is a power-hungry organization whose reliability is in hoarding information as a means to control through knowledge as a finite resource.

Demonstrating Reliability
Since a Generative Culture's primary goal is performance improvement, its reliability manifests in several ways.

  1. They become very transparent because knowledge sharing is a global optimization, feeds collaboration, and allows for well-versed decisions.
  2. They encourage diversity of thought. Because diverse backgrounds and experiences create diverse perspectives, these diverse perspectives can be novel approaches leading to the next step, "experimentation."
  3. They allow experimentation because experiments aim to learn, and the knowledge gained can be shared via the aforementioned transparency.
  4. They treat failure as an opportunity to improve and not to blame. We always learn more through failure. A lot of times, success is a trap. We succeed and don't always know why, but it is generally/painfully obvious how and why we failed. So failure is shared. It is an opportunity to learn and not an opportunity to fault.

Reliability Creates Trust
This reliability becomes Trust. Trust in the organization to back safety in experimentation, Trust in the organization to be open, and finally, Trust in the organization to see failure as opportunities.

Relentless Spirit
With time this becomes a relentless focus on the spirit of improvement. I use spirit here purposefully...some organizations introduce the process of improvement and then lose sight of the spirit of improvement because of the focus on the process. The process is secondary and should be questioned repeatedly on whether it fulfills the purpose. The purpose is to improve, not to conform.

My favorite example of the relentless spirit of improvement is Dave Brailsford pursuit of a 1% improvement in all the things in British Cycling. They left no stone unturned in their experimentation; given the experimentation's breadth, everyone had to be in on the experiments. It took time, but eventually, British Cycling went from a perennial laggard to a cycling juggernaut. To dive a bit deeper into this, check out this excerpt on marginal gains from Atomic Habits: https://jamesclear.com/marginal-gains

Final Takeaway
No matter the organizational acrobatics attempted...every company ships its org chart. It is a fact of operating any business of size. The design and behavior of an organization become implicit in your product and sometimes incredibly explicit to customers. So when you ship your org chart ship a reliable one.

Extra: Additional Reading on "Generative Cultures"
If you would like to read a deep dive on culture types and "Generative Culture," then check out some of Ron Westrum's writings, including this paper: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8150380_A_Typology_of_Organisational_Cultures

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