Empowered Accountability – Rethinking Professionalism
Submitted By Guest Blogger: Dr. Tony Kern, CEO Convergent Performance
(Keynote Speaker at the 2012 ACSF Symposium, February 28-29, www.acsf.aero/symposium)
At the upcoming Air Charter Safety Foundation Symposium, I will be addressing the need for an enhanced set of professionalism standards to “empower accountability” at the level of each individual in our ever more connected industry. I would like to offer the following analysis to set the stage for that discussion.
A few months ago, a federal grand jury charged six former executives and supervisors at an FAA-approved aircraft repair station in California with using bogus parts and unapproved procedures in repairing and certifying aircraft parts for service. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said the indictment alleges that the defendants knowingly cut corners in repairing aircraft parts and concealed the fact that they were not complying with FAA regulations. This gross breach of ethical conduct was the central topic of discussion with many of my colleagues in the aftermath of the announcement, with nearly all expressing various degrees of shock at the scope and magnitude of the indictment, which included allegations that the defendants “regularly directed technicians to use unapproved parts in repairs,” and on one occasion “allegedly used a paperclip instead of an approved part to complete a repair and then returned that part to the customer after certifying the repair had been done properly,” according to Lauren Horwood from the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Such egregious breaches of professionalism are uncommon, but in order to fully comprehend why this event is important the vast majority in our industry who try to do it right day in and day out, we have to ask ourselves three important questions. The first is, “When and how did this ugly scenario begin?” I sincerely doubt that one morning the boss came in and announced to everyone, “OK lads, throw out the regulations and stock up on paperclips, we are about to make some real money here by operating outside the lines.” It is far more likely that it began with a single instance of profitable noncompliance that spread like a cancer from employee to employee, resulting in a culture that was not only noncompliant, but allegedly criminally so. The second question follows naturally from the first, “Why did no one at the company stop the crazy train from gaining steam?” The culture specialists will likely tell us that over time, the normalization of deviance became rationalized, and the path of least resistance and greatest profit became too difficult to get off.
The third question is perhaps the most important. “What if we asked the same questions in our own settings?” How shocked would we be to hear that our aircrews or line maintenance were becoming a bit sloppy with the paperwork or “knowingly cutting corners and concealing the fact that they were not fully complying with regulations?” Topics like crew rest, required briefings, weather/fuel minimums, backdating of service and training requirements and hazard reporting immediately come to mind. Maintaining an aircraft with bogus parts is shocking, but flying with less than perfect compliance with operational procedures seems to some to be accepted practice in an organizational or personal setting where the risk of getting caught is minimal and the temptation to deviate to get the job done is often large.
Herb Brown, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento Office said in a statement about the bogus repair indictment that “it is appalling that these defendants would put financial gain and reward ahead of the safety and well-being of the many people who could have fallen in harm’s way as a result …” Once again, when applied to the bogus repairs event this made perfect sense, but when I recalled an interview with a Chief Pilot from a large flight department for my recent book project, I had to wonder again if we were applying very different standards of ethics to aircraft operations. He told me in no uncertain terms that “this is a competitive business, and if I followed every rule in the book I would be out of business in a hurry.” I wonder how this Chief Pilot would feel if he knew his aircraft were being repaired and maintained under this business philosophy?
So what steps can we take to restore the integrity of our operational guidance and compliance? First, we must stopping using blunt instruments on a complex safety issue. Telling someone to “do the right thing” is insufficient and perhaps misleading in some cultures or organizations (where getting the job done may trump safety on occasion). Defining and committing to higher defined standard of professionalism and teaching the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of empowered accountability seems like a reasonable starting point. Towards that end, I offer this call to personal action. The Aviation Professionalism Pledge was designed to highlight the first three elements of a full set of professional ethics standards – competence, compliance, and mutual trust between professional peers.
Aviation Professionalism Pledge
I am an aviation professional and operate within a system that is — as the famous poster says — “terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.” I believe our profession is, and should remain, essentially self-regulating, standing upon the three pillars of competence, compliance, and mutual trust between professional peers. Those who do not meet these standards damage the profession as a whole. Therefore, I pledge to remain vigilant, not only of my own performance, but also for identifying, reporting, and if possible, correcting all threats to the safety and integrity of my proud, chosen profession.
To sign the electronic pledge and download a color copy suitable for framing as a daily reminder to you and your organization, visit our professionalism pledge page at the following link. http://www.convergentperformance.com/Pledge.html. Join those of us who have already made the commitment.
I look forward to furthering our discussion at the upcoming ACSF Symposium.
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