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The Thinking Cap


Mindful Culture

Article prepared: 9 December 2013

A mindful safety culture is one that is perceptive to danger, acknowledges that there are risks involved in people’s jobs, knows what these risks are, and is sensitive to warning signs. In a mindful culture, personnel at all levels are acutely aware that the best systems can fail, and this mindset is reflected in their beliefs and actions. 

Mindful cultures were researched by Weick and Sutcliffe with their ground breaking work on ‘High Reliability Organisations’ (HROs) – high-risk organisations that maintain a high standard of safety over time, in part due to their commitment to a mindful safety culture.

A mindful culture has five key traits:

Preoccupation with failure

To be preoccupied with failure means to be continuously seeking out problems and focussing on areas of past failure. Some organisations may see this as paranoia, whereas others see it as a necessity for reducing the frequency and likelihood of errors occurring in the future. These organisations encourage personnel to report, examine and discuss errors and near misses to gain understanding and make changes to prevent them from occurring again. Mindful organisations are constantly alert and working to fight complacency, the temptation to reduce safety statistics and the risks of personnel running on autopilot.

Reluctance to simplify

A successfully mindful organisation refuses to simplify work processes. This concept may sound like the organisation is creating more work, particularly in a world where we are trying to make work tasks more efficient and reliable. However, what “reluctance to simplify” means is refusing to over-simplify explanations or interpretations of what has occurred in the past and what may happen in the future. These organisations have systems and resources in place that encourage the ongoing collection and interpretation of data to search for trends.

Sensitivity to operations

A sensitivity to operations is a constant awareness from both the leadership team and personnel on the current state of processes and systems within the organisation. Maintaining awareness and sensitivity ensures that issues are noticed and events can be prevented. The organisation realises that all personnel involved need to have a shared and accurate understanding of operations to assist in predicting future states. This is achieved through employees providing leaders with accurate and current information regarding operations. A culture must exist where not only good news is reported, but individuals are not afraid or hesitant to report bad news. The accuracy of the information reported will help the organisation to determine their current reality, identify the gaps, and thus be able to prioritise responsibilities.

Commitment to resilience

Resilience is the ability to return to one’s original state after being placed in a stressful situation. Mindful organisations committed to resilience pay close attention to their ability to effectively manage errors and recover swiftly. A commitment to resilience is about understanding that recovery from a problem is equally as important as the prevention of the issue. This means that organisations need to consider that if something goes wrong, do the systems, processes and tools in place assist or hinder their recovery process? If they do hinder recovery, what can be done to make them more effective in the management of error in future?

Deference to expertise

In a mindful organisation, a culture exists where all personnel and leaders will defer to individuals with the greatest knowledge, experience, and understanding of the issue being addressed. This does not mean that this person has all the necessary information in order to respond to the issue, but enables the team to make more precise choices based on the person with the greatest level of expertise. This opens up communication and ensures that the process flows more smoothly, enabling all areas of potential failure to be explored.

How can PSB Solutions help?

Reaching the state of a mindful culture can seem quite daunting, especially if you don’t know where to start. PSB Solutions can assist your organisation by creating a step-by-step plan towards achieving this goal. PSB Solutions understands and recognises that change does not happen overnight, but comes as a result of an effective process involving feedback and openness from personnel. We offer a consultative approach to organisations, assisting in the development and implementation of culture change in regards to safety. For more information, or if you would like to have a discussion regarding what you’ve read today, please contact us on (08) 9489 3900 or or email us.


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