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Creating a High Performance Organization

Highly Reliable Organization (HRO) Approach to Creating a High Performance Organization

Dr. Karl Weick from the University of Michigan and Dr. David Roberto  from Harvard Business School (among others) have analyzed organizations  that are fragile process organizations and must perform certain functions extremely well. Examples are emergency rooms, nuclear power  plants, aircraft carriers, and IT infrastructure organizations, to name  just a few. These kinds of organizations have come to be known as Highly Reliable Organizations, or ”HROs.”

Our practice has taken the best of HRO theory, and in a highly  customized way, grafted the useful parts onto the cultural DNA of  organizations to help them better deal with performance, risk, scale,  and complexity. We believe this is one of the best ways to help create  truly ”High Performance Organizations.”

When might a tailored HRO approach help the effectiveness of your  organization? See below if your organization bears some of the  characteristics of a ”fragile process organization,” and if some of the  behaviors within HROs resonate with you as potentially being helpful to  your organization’s effectiveness.

What are ”Fragile Process Organizations?”

Fragile Process Organizations typically:

  • Involve complex interactions as an integral part of operations
  • Have many ”moving parts” in terms of process
  • Tend to have complex procedures and process rules
  • Have ”tight coupling” among processes (i.e., very little ”slack”)
  • Are time dependent
  • Require a rigid sequence of processes for successful output
  • Can face situations where an accumulation of small events may cause an eventual disaster

What Are the Behaviors of HROs?

HROs typically exhibit a host of behaviors that make them successful, but those behaviors can usually be lumped into five groups of ”meta behaviors” as follows:

  • Preoccupied with failure
  • Reluctant to simplify interpretations
  • Sensitive to operations
  • Committed to resilience
  • Defer to expertise (as opposed to authority)

(These behaviors and the phrase ”Highly Reliable Organizations: are adapted from Weick, Karl and Sutcliffe, Kathleen. Managing the Unexpected, 2001)

Examples of Our Work in This Area

For an IT infrastructure unit of a large pharmaceutical company, we arranged a visit to a world-class emergency room, and through  discussions both before and after that visit, helped the client’s senior management look at creating top-tier organizational performance in a  positive, proactive way.

For a large process-based manufacturing complex, we  helped utilize HRO theory to assist the organization in dealing with the explosive growth in scale, complexity, and risk to the parent  organization.

For a large pharmaceutical company, assistance in  applying HRO theory, particularly weak signals theory, to the early  identification of potential issues which could interrupt production  and/or create quality and compliance problems.

Client Testimonials

Extraordinarily creative, time sensitive and cost effective.
Governance Manager, Information Technology group

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