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Why Every Business Can Benefit from Adopting a Just Culture: Lessons from the Aviation Industry

Control room, image made by author with DiffusionBee

In today’s complex and stressful society, creating a positive and learning-oriented culture guarantees high safety and top performance. Particularly important in the aviation industry, as the consequences of accidents and incidents can be catastrophic. By adopting a just culture, organisations in aviation, but certainly other sectors too, can create a more resilient and effective environment in which mistakes, incidents and also conflicts can be dealt with in a way that leads to growth and improvement.

But what is a just culture, and how is it different from a blame-free culture or a punitive culture? A just culture is one in which individuals are not held responsible for accidents and incidents beyond their control, but in which they are held accountable for their actions when they are reckless or deliberately break rules or deviate from procedures. In the case of wilfulness, it is prudent to test whether there is self-interested gain. If there is none, more profit can be expected if lessons are learned for the organisation. In contrast, a punitive culture may be too lenient because it absolves individuals of any responsibility for their actions. A punitive culture can be too harsh because it can create an environment of fear and distrust in which people are discouraged from expressing and sharing their opinions and, ultimately, dare to admit their mistakes.

A fair decision-making process includes a fair and balanced approach to accidents and incidents. This means considering all relevant factors, including the individual’s intention and degree of responsibility, the organisational factors that may have contributed to the incident and the potential risks and consequences of the incident. By using a “just culture decision process”, organisations can create a more transparent and learning-oriented environment in which conflicts can be handled in a way that leads to growth and improvement.

Exemplary behaviour, “leading by example”, from management is also essential for creating a just culture. Impulsive reactions after an incident or mistake by an employee are disastrous for confidence in the just culture within an organisation.

A nuanced response that focuses on learning value will actually foster this trust and create an environment where people feel comfortable admitting their mistakes and expressing and sharing their opinions. Management should be open to hearing and considering different points of view.

A just culture is the foundation for building a resilient organisation with the ability to adapt and recover from setbacks, and is essential for maintaining performance and avoiding catastrophic outcomes.

Ultimately, creating a just culture is indispensable for ensuring safety and performance.

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This article is also published on LinkedIn

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