Monday, May 31, 2010

Air India plane crash in Mangalore - probable cause

For those who aren't aware, an Air India aircraft crashed on May 22 2010, resulting in the deaths of 158 people. The accident took place in Mangalore, a city in southern India.

Essentially, the aircraft overshot the runway and plunged into a valley that lay just beyond the runway. Weather conditions were apparently not ideal; moreover, the runway is what's called a "tabletop" runway, leaving little room for error.

As I watched news of the accident unfold, I hoped that a probable cause was NOT that the co-pilot warned against landing, and being over-ruled by his commander. Why did I hope this? Because a rather similar thing happened 33 years back, resulting in the world's worst aviation accident (more on this later). If it was a probable cause again, it would mean the lessons hadn't been learnt.

Unfortunately, my hope doesn't appear to match reality. According to a newspaper report, the co-pilot of the Air India aircraft twice urged his commander to not land, but go around and try landing again. The co-pilot was over-ruled, and the commander tried landing the plane - with terrible results.

This problem - of the co-pilot or junior crew members being over-ruled by the flight commander - is not a new one. In fact, the airline industry has a type of training called CRM (Crew Resource Management) to ensure that commanders don't make arbitrary decisions. Yet, it happened on the Air India flight.

Worse, this happened 33 years back and was a factor in the world's worst aviation accident, in which 583 peopled died. In that accident, two 747s (belonging to KLM and the now defunct airline, Pan Am) collided on a runway in Tenerife, Spain. The flight engineer on the KLM asked his captain if they were indeed cleared for take-off, and if the Pan Am had cleared the runway. The captain brushed aside his engineer's warning, and continued taking off - with the Pan Am still on the runway. (The Tenerife disaster is a case study in my book).

Of course, disasters are not just the result of a commander over-ruling a junior. Typically, multiple factors are involved. In the Air India case, the airfield itself has issues; in the KLM's case, fog covered the runway, so visibility was poor.

That said, the human factor is a hugely significant one - and it's important to remove the human factor in these accidents. Specifically, it's important to remove the fear-factor - or the power-abuse factor - in cockpits. CRM is meant to neutralize these issues - but it doesn't. Why not? Simple. Because CRM does not take into account the power imbalance between a boss and his subordinate.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

French man robs bank to take revenge on bad boss

There's an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper that talks about a French man who stole millions of Euros from a bank, to take revenge on his bosses (read the article here).

The article quoted the man saying, "I had a problem with my boss. It was not the right choice." Further, "As I was single I couldn't have holiday during the summer, they didn't pay me all my hours, we were not respected. I respect the law but at a certain moment I crossed over to the other side because of all these injustices."

I obviously don't condone the crime. That said, it's amazing the extent to which people are pushed by bad bosses, so much so that the 'victims' are willing to commit such crazy and drastic acts. Underlying all this is the sense of utter powerlessness on the part of subordinates.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exit interviews

When you leave a company, your organization's HR (Human Resources) department will typically conduct an "exit interview" - an interview in which they ask you questions related to why you are leaving. This is usually an exercise in futility - first, the questions are designed to ensure you give bland answers. Second, the vast majority of people do not tell the truth because they don't want to burn bridges. So this ends up being a back-slapping exercise with answers such as, "I'm leaving for other opportunities" even if this isn't the truth.

And here's one question that HR never asks, even in an exit interview:"Are you leaving because your boss is terrible?"

Why HR doesn't ask that question, even though it's probably the most valid one?

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My ChangeThis manifesto

As of today, my manifesto on ChangeThis is at no. 3 on the list of "Recently Popular Manifestos", ahead of the manifestos of the likes of Tom Peters and Seth Godin.

While I'm obviously pleased, the bigger message is this: bad bosses are a real problem, which is why so many people are reading my manifesto. Even today, when hierarchies are supposedly flatter and bosses are "leaders", bad bosses continue to create enormous amounts of stress.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Brilliant Dilbert cartoon

There's a superb Dilbert cartoon today (May 7th). Check it out!

The cartoon simply and clearly shows how bosses ultimately wield power - through the appraisal.

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