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What your company can learn from NASA tragedies
Date:1/30/2014

BYU business professor Peter Madsen has been researching NASA's safety climate ever since the Columbia shuttle broke apart upon re-entering Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003.

Specifically, Madsen has been studying and quantifying how the organization recognizes "near-misses"events where failures were narrowly averted resulting in successful outcomes.

A new study of NASA's safety climate coauthored by Madsen finds that recognition of those near-misses goes up when the significance of a project is emphasized, and when organizational leaders emphasize safety relative to other goals (like efficiency).

In other words, if you want to avert disasters, your employees need to feel like their work has greater significance, and they need to know that their leaders value safety.

"It is challenging for people to see something that didn't have an overtly bad outcome as a near-miss," Madsen said. "It's part of human nature: We tend to over-weigh what happened instead of what could have happened. But that can be changed by effective leadership."

Using a database of inflight anomalies for two decades (1989-2010) of unmanned NASA missions, the researchers found when NASA leadership emphasized the significance of projects and emphasized the importance of safety, the organization recognized near-misses for what they were instead of passing them off as successes.

The findings, which appear in the Journal of Management, can be implemented by company leaders in a number of industries where safety is paramount, including transportation, power generation, extraction and healthcare.

"If you're in an industry where safety is important and you really want your employees to pay attention to it, it takes not just talking about it, but backing it up," he said. "Employees are very good at picking up the signals that managers are giving about what they really value."

The same has been true for NASA over the years,
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Contact: Todd Hollingshead
toddh@byu.edu
801-422-8373
Brigham Young University
Source:Eurekalert

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