Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What organisations can learn from the near disaster that was QF 32

Most people would remember the potentially catastrophic events involving QF 32 on November 4th 2010. For those who do not, it involved an engine failure that resulted in extensive damage to a new Airbus 380 that had just taken off from Changi Airport, Singapore. A crash was probably averted due to the skill of the pilot, Richard Champion de Crespigny, and other crew on board as well as the robustness of the aircraft. There was no loss of life or injury on board and the plane landed safely back at Changi, albeit in a less than pristine condition.

There are many things to learn from the episode and it is worth reading the book about the event, simply called QF 32, written by the pilot. But what motivated this blog was an interview I heard on ABC Radio of de Crespigny by Richard Fidler. One of the things that the pilot talked about was the level of on-going training and checks that pilots undergo. They must test their skills in a simulator every 4 months. Not routine stuff but extreme situations and emergencies, like catastrophic engine failure. Then there are regular cockpit checks or what sound like audits, medical tests every year and the need to demonstrate specific competencies for different types of aircraft. Pilots are expected to walk before they are allowed to run through supervised experience, and demonstrated capability before moving up in the ranks. Clearly the motivation for such stringency has all to do with consequences.

So why should management or leadership be any different? In some cases the consequences of poor management or leadership can be just as catastrophic.  Situations such as armed conflict and workplaces where there is high risk, like oil and gas rigs, for example, come to mind. It is also true that the impact of poor management and leadership can be extremely harmful (personally catastrophic) on those who are being led or managed, and to the organization itself. Textbooks and airport recipe books on management and leadership often ignore this unpleasant potential. The literature on leadership fed to the public tends to be more about the positive aspects of what good leaders do. Much of it is froth and bubble with little scientific basis: but that is the topic of a future blog.

Poor management and leadership can result in high levels of stress in people that results in: feeling generally unwell with fatigue and dysphoria as the main effects;  severe physical illness; psychological illness such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse; low self-esteem; poor job satisfaction; and relationship problems. Clearly this means that there will be less than optimum job performance.

From an organizational point of view poor management and leadership results in poor employee engagement. It is well established that this means reduced productivity and quality of work. Other issues involve conflict and poor teamwork.

Given these outcomes of poor management and leadership one would expect the same high level of training, quality of professional development, checking of performance, and accountability that occurs with pilots. In fact, organisations often have a very low level of expectation and poor monitoring in all these areas.

The question is whether or not this is morally, ethically or professionally appropriate. And is it work the risk?

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