Measuring the effects of strategic change on safety in a high reliability organization
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This study explores how strategic organizational change affects safety as an outcome variable in a high reliability organization (HRO). High reliability organizations are defined as organizations operating in high-risk industries that achieve exceptionally high levels of safety performance. Based on the assumption that HROs achieve these high levels of safety performance through stable safety processes produced by common organizational structures such as: learning environments, highly regulated activities, redundancy, local ownership of tasks, and strong supporting safety cultures, I will study how potentially destabilizing deliberate change processes affect safety as an outcome, over time, in a live single longitudinal case study. This study sets out to answer two questions: (1) How does the interaction between leadership choices and actions, and organizational culture type affect attitudes towards change in a high reliability organization? (2) How do the relationships between leadership choices and actions during strategic change, safety climate in place, and employee attitudes toward change, affect safety as an outcome variable? A deliberate strategic change initiative known as corporatization is studied over a three year period in the Norwegian air navigation services provider - Avinor - with particular focus upon four embedded units that experience three different phases of a common deliberate change process. The findings indicate that the individuals at each embedded unit experience the change process differently regarding both the local leadership and the safety climate in place with varying effects on attitudes and perceptions. However, the findings also show that the attitudes and perceptions toward the top leadership, and the top leadership’s commitment to safety, in particular, are consistently reduced during the time period studied and do not vary across the embedded units. This study focuses on how a mismatch between organizational culture type and strategic change type affects change implementation success. Furthermore, the study shows how this mismatch affects individual attitudes and perceptions toward change, and how these, in turn, affect perceptions of safety for front-line employees directly responsible for safety outcomes. It is argued that different organizational culture types demand specific change types to ensure success. It is also argued that a mismatch between culture and change types can lead to a loss of trust in the leadership and resistance to change that can, in the worst case, lead to the collapse of the change process. Propositions on how changes in perceptions and attitudes affect safety are presented in a structural equation model, and show that individual perceptions of the leadership’s commitment to safety and safety climate have strong positive causal relationships to both attitudes toward change and perceptions of safety. The findings indicate that individual perceptions of the leadership’s commitment to safety have important implications to both change success and safety as an outcome.