A Brief History of Workplace Justice

In every human enterprise, there will be times when we are asked to judge the behavior of others.  The context might be that of parent/child, teacher/student, or manager/employee.  How we judge, and how we allocate responsibility between the individual and the system in which they operate, will ultimately dictate how well that individual and that system will perform across a variety of values – from safety to reputation, from customer satisfaction to fiscal responsibility.

Experts across many high-consequence industries, including healthcare, aviation, rail, nuclear power, and emergency response, have called for a better way to manage risk and prevent adverse outcomes.  We often hear of the need for a less punitive approach to errors and accidents so those who manage and regulate within these industries can develop more open learning cultures.  Why?  Our experience shows that open reporting cultures are more effective at identifying the system improvements that lead to reduced organizational risk.  At the same time, however, many managers in high-consequence industries continue to struggle with issues of accountability – how to hold employees accountable for their choices while encouraging an open learning culture.

Justice in the workplace is as complex as it is in society as a whole.  Every human being faces overlapping duties and competing demands for their time and attention.  Generally, we want our employees to follow procedures and to make good choices that align with our shared organizational and professional values.  Sometimes, however, we may want our employee to deviate from policy, perhaps to save the life of another.  At other times, we may view the decision to follow a bad procedure as a reckless act.  To protect the learning culture, managers must develop a strong sense of what can and should be expected of humans in the complex systems we create.  Additionally, managers must have a good sense of what to do when a breach occurs.  What should a manager do when an employee has not lived up to shared values?  The Just Culture Algorithm™ is meant to be your key to answering this question.

Our tools for workplace justice have been built through decades of research and development.  The Just Culture Algorithm™ may look prescriptive; however, it requires that the user support a core set of beliefs around the management of organizational risk.  We must acknowledge that no system can be designed to produce perfect results because we do not start with perfect components.  In the Just Culture, we know that all humans are destined to make mistakes, and destined to drift into at-risk behavioral choices, regardless of how well the system is designed.  We must view human errors and adverse events as the outcomes to be measured and monitored.  We must view the quality of the systems we design around our employees, and their safe behavioral choices within those systems, as the two inputs to be managed.  The keys to improved reliability are hidden in this shift of focus: from errors and outcomes, to system design and behavioral choices.  The Just Culture Algorithm™ is designed to help make that shift and obtain the outcomes we desire.