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Error and crisis management September 18, 2013

Interview: Initiating a new framework for active error management

Jan Hagen
An interview with Jan Hagen, author of the recently published book "Confronting Mistakes: Lessons from the Aviation Industry when Dealing with Error."

What first made you draw parallels between the world of business and the high risk aviation industry?

In management we tend to focus on success stories. But I was more interested to learn why strong organizations were involved in disasters or bankruptcies, especially when their managers had a solid professional background. By looking at a number of cases, the issue of error communication came up repeatedly. From my aviation background I knew there was a concept called Crew Resource Management or CRM that had been introduced in airline cockpits more than twenty years ago and implemented successfully since then.

What are the common errors that afflict many businesses?

It would be nice if there were a well-defined set of errors as these could then easily be targeted. The main problem is the assumption that people on all levels can or should work without making mistakes. As errors are part of human thought and activity, our focus should be on error management rather than error avoidance. Another problem is the matter of organizational hierarchies and the difficulty of mentioning mistakes bottom-up. But even CEOs make mistakes.

Are there simple steps every business can take to reduce the number of errors and their effects?

There are no shortcuts when implementing error management as our views and fears when it comes to mistakes are deeply rooted in our culture and psychological make-up. Changing attitudes in these cases is a long process that needs strong commitment throughout the organization, including the top management.

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