Column: Risk Management

A Betrayal of Trust

By: | May 6, 2015

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected].

As part of my business management training, I took executive leadership courses. I lean on information from one course in particular every day. The course was entitled: Trust.

As a class, we debated the idea of trust and the importance of building trust with staff and within our organizations.

A question was posed: How does one build trust with another person specifically? Answers flew around the class: One needs to show integrity, be likeable, be good, to care, to listen, to acknowledge others. All the answers didn’t seem quite right.

The instructor interjected: “Trust is built when one demonstrates painfully consistent behavior.”

You don’t have to like someone to trust them. Take Mr. Grumpy-Pants who sits next to you in the office, who is gloomy and unpleasant every day. He may drag you down, but you probably can count on him. As opposed to Ms. Two-Face, who is sweet one day while the next she is stabbing you in the back. Hard to feel steady and trust her next move.

Trust problems cannot be solved by applying more technology. Trust issues are solved by actively building trust — starting with trust between pilots and their airlines.

Think of people you have difficulty trusting. Likely, it is because of their unsteady, unexpected or inconsistent behavior. Their surprising volatility impedes your ability to trust them.

This idea of trust has been front-of-mind for me lately. I write this column six days following the incomprehensible loss of 150 people on Germanwings flight 4U9525.

I watched hours of news footage that attempted to reveal what may have transpired that tragic day. Initially, the hours of analyses resulted in suggestions of increased safety measures to remove the risk of such an event ever occurring again. New technical measures were recommended including pilotless planes, remote aviation ability and flight-deck video surveillance.

Then, panel experts debated “failures” in aviation processes and safety systems including the flight deck door — a door system that was purposely redesigned post-911 to protect at all costs the most important people on the plane, the pilots.

It was suggested that the flight deck door safety system failed because the co-pilot was able to take advantage of the known impenetrability of the door to help perpetrate his plan. This insinuation bothered me on many levels.

Safety systems have goals. The design of a safety system starts with the question: What are we trying to protect? The flight deck door was designed to protect the pilots from unwanted intruders so they can do what we trusted them to do. Safely fly the plane.

The door system on the Germanwings flight did not fail. It behaved as it was designed. A redesign of the flight deck door will not reduce the risk of another pilot murder-suicide. The aviation regulator’s new requirement that at least two crew members remain in the flight deck at all times may add a new barrier but gives no guarantee.

The failure here was that of the co-pilot. He was in the position of utmost, blind trust for passengers. He deeply betrayed that privilege, a privilege bestowed on him by so many people. He failed; the safety systems did not.

Our interdependence with others forces our need for continued trust. Trust problems cannot be solved by applying more technology. Trust issues are solved by actively building trust — starting with trust between pilots and their airlines. If we are to revisit anything to improve risk and safety, let’s ensure there is trust — painfully consistent organizational behaviors that make flight crews truly feel safe to self-declare problems if need be. In that I trust.

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