Monday, August 30, 2010

Experiencing Decisions

With this post we’re back to a topic that is high on our list of important issues for ensuring a strong safety culture - and one that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention by the industry and regulators.  It is the critical importance of how safety values are integrated into decision making processes, particularly for decisions that involve balancing other business priorities and where the safety implications are not clear cut.   

An article in the Wall Street Journal on August 23, 2010* provides the perspective of educators at a top business school on teaching values to their students.  The concern arises when values are taught in the abstract and reliance is placed on commitments to high ethics without the contextual conflicts that will arise in the real world.  “The power of the situation, and our too frequent disregard for it, is an overarching lesson from sociology and social psychology. Situational forces drive behavior to a surprising extent, much more than expected by those who believe character determines all.”

Isn’t this also true for the nuclear industry?

The authors, professors at Yale’s School of Management, observe, “This [traditional leadership courses] leaves the connection between values, leadership and action underdeveloped.”  Students “...must be brought face-to-face with the pressures that profit-maximization will create for them.”

How can students appreciation of decision making challenges be made more realistic and compelling?  The authors believe “We must make them aware that these decisions will challenge their values…... We need to make sure they engage in a continuing dialogue….We have found this is best achieved through experiential learning.”

The term “experiential learning” certainly caught our eye as we believe it is consistent with our own focus on developing simulation tools to provide a realistic decisionmaking environment - where trainees can practice managing the conflicts they will inevitably confront on the job. 

*"Promises Aren't Enough: Business Schools Need to Do a Better Job Teaching Students Values," Rodrigo Canales, B. Cade Massey and Amy Wrzesniewski, The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2010.

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