moral compassAll Airmen are taught the core values and continue to have them infused each and every day. What is sometimes forgotten is how the culture of an organization can impact our values.

On a routine basis, I sit with the pipeline Airmen that train at our schoolhouse. These students are only a month or so removed from basic training and are learning primary skills to earn their 3-level. I love to talk to them about core values in a way that is not painting a picture of a perfect world; rather, the real life situations they could face.

When I ask them what the core values are, each are proud to state them and even give me the same textbook definitions I had learned many years ago. This is when I like to have fun with them. I ask if any of them can see themselves ever lacking integrity. As maintainers, tech data binds how we perform. Any deviation is a direct violation of an order and could cause serious injury or destruction of property. However, there are steps in the books that some “think” are useless and sometimes they are skipped to preserve time or energy. So, I ask these young maintainers-to-be if they will ever vector away from the book. All of them give me a confident “No, Sir!”

I tell them that is great to hear. Then I ask them who drives a car. Almost all hands rise. Then I inquire if any of them ever speed. Their eyes grow wide at this point. I explain to them that even though we all know the law, we do not follow the speed limits because we know we can get away with it more often than not. Our culture accepts this deviation and actually values it. Don’t believe me? Think of the last time you were stuck behind someone actually going the speed limit.

This same thing can happen in any workplace. When we allow deviations to slide by or even accidentally miss a step and see there is no recourse for the action, we are tempted to do it again. As leaders, we need to be on the lookout for these potential deviations and bring the team back onto the right path. If the deviation is truly value added, fix the guidance and pave the path for those who come after you.

Ignoring a deviation will not make things better in the long run. An example of how letting this culture continue could create more work is from the C-17 aircraft world. The data bus that connects the multitude of computers on this aircraft is very expansive. There are many connectors and couplers joining everything together. The couplers have fallen victim to a culture problem and so did those who maintain them. It all began with the mindset of leaders from a different type of aircraft.

When an aircraft is having an issue we have been taught to keep looking until we find the fix. If the problem is not something we can get to repeat, we have to keep trying until we are certain there is nothing wrong. Well, the C-17 is a giant computer and more often than not restarting the computer, fixes the issue. To the old timers this was not fathomable and they refused to allow this insisting there had to be something else. So, maintainers would go shaking down the system in hopes of finding something and would often be able to get a slight twist on a connector leading to one of the couplers. This “fix” was input into the database and everyone was happy.

Analysts reported this trending coupler to the engineers and they were concerned about a potential problem area and redesigned the coupler. What used to be a 5-minute replacement is now 8-12 hours of major maintenance. All of this was because the culture overpowered the values.

It is up to us seek out and fix these cultural issues that are not in line with our values, not to align our values to the culture.

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