HRO, 2007


European Conference on High Reliability Organizations:
Bridging The Gap Between Theory and Practice

29, 30 & 31 May 2007 - Deauville, France

Some organizations function in high risk environments where error or failure, though uncommon, results in catastrophic loss, bodily injury, or death. Based on previous research by Perrow (1984) , Weick and Roberts (1993) , and other work by Roberts in the 1990s, High Reliability Organizations (HRO) can be defined as organizations which have fewer than normal accidents. Practices developed by those in danger can assist in the solution of problems of any organization that works in an environment characterized by uncertainty, threat and time pressure. The same systems developed on US Navy aircraft carriers can apply in fire suppression, medicine, and business management.

The decrease in accidents occurs through change in culture. Technology has some influence but not in isolation, nor without a change in the organization's culture. At this point in its development, research (for more references ) has identified some key characteristics of HROs. These include organizational factors (i.e., rewards and systems that recognize costs of failures and benefits of reliability), managerial factors (e.g., communicate the big picture, mutual hindsight, etc), and adaptive factors (e.g., become a learning organization). More specifically, HROs actively seek:

  • to know what they don't know,
  • to design systems that make available all knowledge that relates to a problem to everyone in the organization,
  • to learn in a quick and efficient manner, aggressively avoid organizational hubris,
  • to train organizational staff to recognize and respond to system abnormalities,
  • to empower staff to act, and design redundant systems to catch problems early.

An HRO expects its organization and its sub-systems will fail and works very hard to avoid failure while preparing for the inevitable so that they can minimize the impact of failure.

This conference invites interaction between researchers, managers, regulators, and practitioners to characterize and spread these practice-based approaches. Its purpose is to compare and share experiences, and provide new avenues for research and new long term solutions for practice.

Conference participants will discuss and design bottom-up management models capable of identifying risk and solutions involving power sharing, authority migration, and continuous problem solving to address uncertainty, danger, and time pressure faced by managers across industries


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