For six days, the world’s eyes were on the Ever Given, the container ship stuck between the banks of the Suez Canal. Although a unique news story, maritime disasters are more typical than most of us realize. According to the insurer Allianz, 41 large ships were lost in 2019 and 46 in 2018. Over the past decade, about 100 big vessels had been lost annually.
Even with recent news of the United Airlines flight depositing its engine across Coloradan backyards, the airline industry has not had the same record as maritime. In the United States, From 2009 to 2018, no U.S. airline had a single fatality. Even the “single-engine” United Flight returned everyone home safely.
An Advice Culture Makes the Difference
In the 1930s, the fledgling aviation industry took its cues from the maritime industry. A sea captain held nearly absolute authority aboard the ship. This unquestioned authority endowing the captain as all-knowing and all-powerful translated to aviation. But beginning in the 1970s, aviation experts realized this approach was often to blame for crashes that might have been prevented if pilots had heeded advice from their co-pilots, flight engineers, or flight attendants.
In one famous aviation triumph, three pilots saved 184 of the 296 people aboard a 1989 United Airlines flight following a catastrophic engine failure. A recent Atlantic article quoted the captain, Alfred Haynes, “Up until 1980, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was the authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn’t as smart as we thought he was …if we had not let everybody put their input in, it’s a cinch we wouldn’t have made it.”
Contrastingly, in the maritime culture, the gap or “power distance” between the captain and his/her crew can make it difficult for junior officers to challenge or question a captain’s decisions. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed this power distance as a primary cause of the El Faro sinking, in which the captain sailed into a hurricane. All 33 sailors died.
There is a lesson to be learned in a business climate where organizations often (and sometimes repeatedly) “sail into hurricanes.” While the captain CEO may be the most capable, they are never omniscient and omnipotent. Captains benefit from experience and perspective but lack the insights that come from being closest to the situation. Conversely, the junior officers’ business analogues often have greater proximity to the situation but lack critical insights that only perspective could offer.
By adopting the advice culture, aviators and organizations regularly avoid disasters. In this culture, captain CEOs are humble, encourage others to question their judgment, and consider insights from others. It is also a culture where power distance does not deter junior officers from speaking up. In such cultures, captain CEOs rarely sail their companies into hurricanes or get them stuck in canals.
Clients who have successfully implemented an advice culture have 3 things in common:
- They establish a decision-maker and identify advisers for every significant decision.
- They use a tool like the Psynet Group Role Mandate to keep track of the changing decision-making constellation.
- They flatten hierarchies to limit power distance.
At Psynet Group, we have helped several companies avoid sailing into hurricanes or beaching their companies by implementing the processes and structures needed to make better decisions more quickly. Want to hear more? Contact us at [email protected]