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Boeing's Continued Speak-Up Problems

Boeing's Continued Speak-Up Problems

by Starling Insights

Starling Insights Editorial Board

Mar 28, 2024


As reported by the Financial Times, a recent review commissioned by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed an ongoing reluctance among Boeing employees to report safety concerns, even after several high-profile safety incidents such as a door panel blowing out mid-flight in January.

While Boeing has made efforts to improve its safety culture, employees fear retaliation and doubt the effectiveness of the company's confidential reporting system. The FAA report highlights the importance of fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up to prevent disasters. Boeing's 737 Max program faced significant setbacks following fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, which stemmed from a culture of silence about corner-cutting and safety issues. Fear of retaliation — including being passed over for promotions, denied bonuses, or pushed out — has continued to inhibit employees' willingness to speak up.

These issues have become even more important as Boeing announced this week that its CEO, David Calhoun, would step away by the end of the year and that its Chairman, Larry Kellner, would not stand for reelection. It also announced the replacement of the head of its commercial aircraft unit. This mid-crisis shake-up leaves a massive job for the incoming executives, who will be charged with overseeing an overhaul of Boeing's safety culture.

"A safety culture is not something that springs up ready-made from a near-death experience; rather it emerges gradually from the persistent and successful application of practical and down-to-earth measures," safety expert James Reason was quoted in the FAA's report as having said. “There is nothing mystical about it. Acquiring a safety culture is a process of collective learning, like any other.”

To learn more about how leaders can cultivate a culture that enables — and even compels — employees to speak up, watch Psychological Safety at Work, a video discussion with Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson on how she founded the field of research, its importance, and how it can be cultivated in organizations.

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