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Just Culture defines three behaviors: human error, at-risk behavior, and reckless behavior. At-risk behavior is the tricky one to work with; it’s the most prevalent and it takes many forms. Risky behaviors can be difficult to spot and the employee may not even realize they’re making a risky choice.
In most cases, the employee either doesn’t see the risk in the choice or doesn’t think the risk is significant. Maybe they’re a little too comfortable in what they’re doing. Maybe they think they’ve “got it under control.” Or maybe they’re just trying to improve their efficiency, skipping or glossing over steps they feel are not important. A risky choice can also be hidden behind a human error, making it more difficult to identify and correct. For example, a baker bakes a cake for the wrong length of time (human error) because she chose not to read over the recipe that she has used for many years (risky choice).
A Just Culture treats at-risk behavior with coaching. When an employee makes a risky choice, we talk to the employee about the risk, making sure they understand the how and the why of the situation. This is not considered punitive; it’s intended as part of the learning process. We need to ensure that the employee understands how the risk can threaten the values of the organization.
Risk is part of doing business; we will never escape it. But we can manage risk; we can be careful and smart about which risks to take. We can also learn from risks taken in order to avoid taking the same risks over and over. And we can encourage our people to let us know when they have taken a risk, whether it worked or not, and explore how it could have worked better.