Discovery CEO Adrian Gore recently pointed our management team towards a recent article by John Kay, visiting professor at the London School of Economics, in the Financial Times (‘Why our planes are growing safer and our finances are not’, 1 April 2015), who makes a point well worth exploring.
Flying is a very low-risk means of transport. As Kay observes, there is a one in five million chance of being killed during a two-hour flight. Kay believes that the reason flying is so safe is largely due to the aviation industry’s attitude towards risk management.
When disaster strikes in the airline industry, rather that resisting exposure, both manufacturers and airlines act quickly, decisively, and openly to source the cause and address any defects. After a crash, there is a thorough attempt to find the black box, search for the cause, and rectify errors for all future flights.
This means that they are always learning from past mistakes and looking for ways to ensure those mistakes are never made again. In this way, meticulously hunting for errors and embracing remedies has become a cultural priority in the airline industry. Papering over cracks is avoided at all costs.
This is in stark contrast to what we often see in corporations. Many managers believe that appearing perfect and errorless is a virtue and work hard to maintain this facade. This attitude is extremely dangerous as it can lead to the quiet covering up of mistakes – which can then be repeated in ignorance by others.
Leaders understand that being transparent is crucial to good management. Good managers and leaders ask, ‘Have I missed something here? What went wrong and why?’ They welcome external scrutiny and validation. This is also the basis for robust corporate governance. Audits and actuarial committees, instead of being dreaded, are seen as valuable tools in the pursuit of excellence.
We should commend and reward those who strive to find errors and take the initiative to fix them, ensure they don’t recur, and share lessons learnt with others.
This is a great leadership lesson for all of us – Gore says focus not on the pursuit of perfection but of excellence. Why? Because perfection can never be achieved, but excellence relies on humility and transparency, which are cornerstones to creating a company that people put their trust in.
Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health