Managing the Unexpected

High Reliability develops an organization’s strengths through individual actions.
Shared attitudes fill the gap between organization and the individual to determine High Reliability.

Conference Article

2012 Fifth International (HRO) Conference



May 21-23, 2012
The Joint Commission Conference Center
Chicago, Illinois, USA

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Call for Abstracts


Supported by The Joint Commission, the San Bernardino Group, and Strategic Reliability, LLC


What does High Reliability look like? How will we know it when we see it? Numerous groups are moving toward High Reliability yet we do not discuss its attributes nor do we describe what its absence looks like before a crisis or catastrophic event. We do not have an accepted means to measure degree of reliability as we approach it.

In industry or service, in nearly every sector of our lives, lay people and experts alike say organizations and systems must improve their Productivity, Quality, Resilience, and Safety (the PQRS of High Reliability). To do this, much is heard about culture, types of culture, and the need to change or improve culture of an organization.

What we do not discuss with sufficient clarity is the means by which we change culture. We do not discuss methods we can use for new cultures to penetrate and diffuse throughout the organization. We do not know how to keep this change both self-sustaining and self-improving (or self-correcting?).

-    What does a High Reliability Organization look like and how do we measure High Reliability?

-    How do operations, the active interaction between personnel and problems within the organization, define High Reliability?

-    What part do attitudes, the favor or disfavor or certain objects and principles, have in shaping behaviors and subsequent beliefs?

-    How can we develop a Reliability Seeking Organization?

-    Are there unifying principles that make it possible to learn from other industries?

-   What are the measures of High Reliability?

We will discuss these questions and share solutions across industries at the Seeking Reliability through Operations and Attitudes Conference next May, 2012. The conference will work toward identification of unifying principles, describing the attitudes found in High Reliability Organizations, and describe how it is the routine operations that lay the groundwork preparing for the unexpected.  

In 2003 the High Reliability Organizing workshops group, a part of the San Bernardino Group, started the first series of inter-industry workshops to combine practitioners and academicians.  This is the fifth in the series of High Reliability Organizing workshops developed by early HRO practitioners and academicians with the San Bernardino Group.  The workshops are directed toward developing and refining the field of high performance in high-risk industries.  Because the participating industries span levels of tempo and technology we can separate human performance and social interactions from performance within a specific industry.  This allows wider application of High Reliability Organizing principles toward Reliability Seeking behaviors.

Who Should Attend?

  • Executives with concerns about the expense of safety measures and the cost not having adequate safety;
  • Administrators who must design systems with sufficient standardization for stability while allowing initiative and creativity for resilience and adaptability;
  • Managers who must translate the goals and requirements of central leadership to those in the working environment and interpret the working environment to the central leaders;
  • Practitioners and operators in the working environment who encounter the unexpected and, at times, experience life between the rules;
  • All will benefit from this conference.   

The High Reliability Organizing Workshop is the conference for meeting academics, HRO veterans, and fellow students of HRO from diverse industries who share practical steps to help your organization move toward High Reliability.  The High Reliability Organizing Workshop draws from pioneers in the field dedicating the program to academics, practitioners, operators, students, and novices, for effective learning and implementation of High Reliability methods and active High Reliability organizing.

Conference Objectives

  • Describe what a High Reliability Organization may look like
  • Characterize the environment where HRO occurs
  • Describe the over-arching attitude toward High Reliability, what attitudes are necessary and sufficient, and what attitudes appear in the constellation of a Reliability Seeking Organization
  • Describe the conflict between technical systems (designed with intent) with those that respond to the environment
  • Describe the difference in environments between operator/practitioner and administrator/executive and the part played by middle managers
  • Discuss “we’re already doing it” and evaluate if that is true.

Keynote Speaker:

Mark R. Chassin, M.D., F.A.C.P., M.P.P., M.P.H.,
President, The Joint Commission Chicago, Illinois

Principal Speakers

  • Karl Weick, PhD, Rensis Likert Distinguished University Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology, Stephen Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
  • Kathleen Sutcliffe, PhD, Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration, Professor of Management and Organizations, Stephen Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
  • John S. Carroll, PhD, Professor of Behavior and Policy Sciences The Organization Studies Group, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Robert Bea, PhD, Professor Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley
  • Najmedin Meshkati, PhD, Professor Department of Civil/Environmental Engineering, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, University of Southern California
  • Thomas A. Mercer, RAdm, USN (retired) Coronado, California    
  • Christopher Hart, Vice Chairman, US National Transportation Safety Board, Washington, DC
  • Earl Carnes, Senior Advisor, High Reliability & INPO Liaison, US Department of Energy, Washington, DC
  • Daved van Stralen, MD, FAAP, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Loma Linda University School of Medicine Loma Linda, California


Panels (tentative)

  • Attitudes and Behaviors: Is this the chicken and egg? Karl Weick, Tom Mercer, Randy Cadieux, Daved van Stralen (moderator)
  • BW Pantex Panel: Rick Hartley (moderator)
  • Achieving Reliability Seeking in the real world: Apollo 13 Consult panel, Bert Slagmolen (moderator)
  • The quest to learn: Is education the only way?  Jim Holbrook (moderator)
  • Achieving High Reliability through the back door: the chemical safety experience. TBD (moderator)

Abstract Presentations

We welcome the submission of abstracts reporting original scholarly research or primary experience in the codification, implementation, or practical application of the principles of high reliability to increase the performance and reliability of organizations. We invite submissions covering a broad range of solutions and experiences.

Call for Abstracts

Primary Research

For those who have conducted research into the application or implementation of High Reliability.

Primary Experience

For those who have personally experienced High Reliability, as success or failure, to describe     the situation, principles, and outcome.

Poster Session (New this year!)

A shorter version of Primary Experience presented on a poster for those new to the field and who seek comment from the larger High Reliability community.


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