Monday, November 2, 2015

Cultural Tidbits from McKinsey

We spent a little time poking around the McKinsey* website looking for items that could be related to safety culture and found a couple.  They do not provide any major insights but they do spur us to think of some questions for you to ponder about your own organization.

One article discussed organizational redesign** and provided a list of recommended rules, including establishing metrics that show if success is being achieved.  Following is one such metric.

“One utility business decided that the key metric for its efficiency-driven redesign was the cost of management labor as a proportion of total expenditures on labor.  Early on, the company realized that the root cause of its slow decision-making culture and high cost structure had been the combination of excessive management layers and small spans of control.  Reviewing the measurement across business units and at the enterprise level became a key agenda item at monthly leadership meetings.” (p. 107)

What percent of total labor dollars does your organization spend on “management”?  Could your organization’s decision making be speeded up without sacrificing quality or safety?  Would your organization rather have the “right” decision (even if it takes a long time to develop) or no decision at all rather than risk announcing a “wrong” one?

A second article discussed management actions to create a longer view among employees,*** including clearly identifying and prioritizing organizational values.  Following is an example of action related to values.

“The pilots of one Middle East–based airline frequently write incident reports that candidly raise concerns, questions, and observations about potential hazards.  The reports are anonymous and circulate internally, so that pilots can learn from one another and improve—say, in handling a particularly tricky approach at an airport or dealing with a safety procedure.  The resulting conversations reinforce the safety culture of this airline and the high value it places on collaboration.  Moreover, by making sure that the reporting structures aren’t punitive, the airline’s executives get better information and can focus their attention where it’s most needed.”

How do your operators and other professionals share experiences and learning opportunities among themselves at your site?  How about throughout your fleet?  Does documenting anything that might be construed as weakness require management review or approval?  Is management (or the overall organization) so fearful of such information being seen by regulators or the public, or discovered by lawyers, that the information is effectively suppressed?  Is your organization paranoid or just applying good business sense?  Do you have a culture that would pass muster as “just”?

Our Perspective

Useful nuggets on management or culture are where you find them.  Others’ experiences can stimulate questions; the answers can help you better understand local organizational phenomena, align your efforts with the company’s needs and build your professional career.

*  McKinsey & Company is a worldwide management consulting firm.

**  S. Aronowitz et al, “Getting organizational redesign right,” McKinsey Quarterly, no. 3 (2015), pp. 99-109.

***  T. Gibbs et al, “Encouraging your people to take the long view,” McKinsey Quarterly (Sept. 2012).


  1. There is no end of attempts to find simple "dashboard" items to indicate organizational health. My favorite, at the moment, is average tenure of the top three levels of management.

    If the number is less than eighteen months the organization is in disarray.

    1. Does this metric du jour consider "time in the company" or "time in position"? Back on Feb. 6, 2015 we posted about a consultant's report on the DNFSB organization. One of the problems noted was the musical chairs being played by the agency's top managers. These folks probably had plenty of time with DNFSB but the org was churning internally, and clearly in some disarray.

    2. I mean time in position. Every shuffle is a blanket amnesty. There is usually no formal job turnover and no due diligence.


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