Reliability or resilience. Maybe it's semantics; maybe it's not.
After more than three decades of experience in high-risk industries, I’ve always been fascinated by a frequent debate over explaining and avoiding error along with its cost on equipment, lives, the environment and business goals. Perhaps the question is a simple choice between reliability and resilience, not the words but how the choice causes leaders to behave.
Reliability is typically used to describe technology, mechanical equipment, and process. While resilience is used to describe societies, nations, the earth or the human body. Reliability describes a system’s quality of being trustworthy or performing consistently well, which on the surface sounds pretty good. But when you dig deeper into meaning, a subtle distinction emerges.
Reliability can feel almost unattainable. It emphasizes anticipating and engineering impossibly ideal conditions. Failure analyses typically end by pointing a probing finger at something for being defective. Often those studies end up blaming someone for being unpredictable, untrustworthy - unreliable. It’s true; people can be unreliable. In fact, resilience depends on it. Operationally, resilience is a system’s capacity to recover quickly from a fault and relies on the human condition.
We are equally prone to both error as well as ingenuity. Resilience recognizes imperfection and seeks to cure and, more importantly, learn from the glitch.
In their book Managing the Unexpected, Weick and Sutcliffe’s fourth principle of High Reliability Organizations (HRO) is a Commitment to Resilience. On resilience they state, “the ability to make sense out of an emerging pattern is just as important as anticipation and planning.” They’re right. In fact, human beings are the only component of our system capable of looking beyond the constraints of design and complex, evolving conditions. We can adapt our performance to achieve successful results.
Resilience is not something we attain, it is something we nurture, something we value, something we do. From here an organizational mindset of empowerment and ownership is activated and operations become safe, efficient, productive and profitable.
So how do we operationalize resilience? We create an operating paradigm and establish programs to make room for ingenuity and learning while dealing with the potential consequences of error. This includes how we proactively monitor conditions and retroactively analyze incidents to learn and improve. We enlighten leaders and spark curiosity. We provide critical technical and non-technical competencies in problem-solving and learning. We include metrics to monitor health. We embed resilience into our fabric, conversations and behaviors.
Vetergy is founded on the principle that mindset drives performance which directly conveys to the bottom-line. Healthy organizations embody a mindset of opportunity where learning is as urgent as execution. By enhancing the quality of decision-making, people are better equipped to deal with dynamic, complex, and ambiguous processes. We call this Operational Resilience. To learn more about how we help our clients build resilient operations, visit us at www.vetergy.com.To learn more about how we help our clients build resilient operations, click here.