CRM and Change Is Coming

I attended Crew Resource Management (CRM) class yesterday at work. It's an all-day required class designed to promote the concept of teamwork. I can't imagine that any federal agency needs this training more than the FAA—the agency I work for. But until there's any sort of moderation from management with respect to their heavy-handed approach to dealing with disputes in the workplace, a class such as this is meaningless.

One of the first segments of the class was a video about the Blue Angels and how they utilize CRM to get the most out of each training session and aerobatic show they perform. Every member of the team enters the debrief room by first checking their rank at the door. Open and honest discussion is a must or the entire endeavor is futile as they work to perfect their skills. I sat there and watched the video and my mind began to wander back to the disciplinary action taken against me by management this past April.

Most of the rest of the facility had already gone through the class last spring with our group being comprised of newer employees and some stragglers such as myself who missed out on the first go-round.

I'm usually one of the more quiet ones in settings like this but there came a point in our discussion where I had to tell the story of what I'd gone through back in April when the CRM course was in full swing at our facility. I think we were talking about how pointless a class such as this was unless management actually embraces what they're teaching.

I spoke up and told how I'd had a disagreement with a supervisor who was overstepping his bounds while I was providing instruction to my trainee in the sector. Voicing disagreement is a part of the CRM process. I went on to say that I went to look for the supervisor when I got out of the sector to discuss what had happened but I couldn't find him. The next morning I came into work intent on sitting down with my area manager, my supervisor and the supervisor who I'd had the disagreement with. I told the class how without even knowing it, I was practicing the lessons of CRM we were leaning that day. It was all for naught, though, as I would learn upon asking for the meeting that it was too late because I'd already been written up and the wheels of 'FAA justice' were in motion. You shouldn't confuse FAA justice with the justice most regular folks know and understand. FAA justice is a one-sided affair that gives little or no credence to those in the ranks of labor.

Change is coming.

So, there I sat in our good-intentioned class, checking a box in my training records for future reference which would prove I'd had the necessary training; training that would never be put into action because that's not the FAA way. The FAA is all about lip service to things of this sort and nothing more.

The part which irritated me most as I pondered what was being taught was that when I was being abused by management, management was pushing people through the CRM class at our facility. The disagreement I'd had with the supervisor was an ideal situation to utilize what they were promoting in the class but they chose not to. They chose to take out the big hammer instead and beat me into submission. And they succeeded.

When I tried to close out this chapter several months ago, I requested a meeting with the supervisor I'd had the disagreement with as well as any other management type who wanted to attend. I wasn't even asking for union representation. What could be the harm in sitting down like adults and working through how the entire situation was handled, including the disciplinary action? Every move I was making was textbook CRM stuff but management would have none of it. Why was management so concerned with getting everybody through their silly little class when they were proving beyond any reasonable doubt that they didn't intend to use it?

I came into work this morning and passed by the watch-desk as I made my way across the control room. I saw Pat Sullivan (my area manager) sitting there but my reawakened disdain for him didn't allow me to utter a hello until he offered one. I responded in kind. I put my stuff away with ten minutes left before the beginning of my shift. I thought to myself that I could just let this go and continue on like all is well (knowing it's not) or I could approach Pat and let him know how I really felt. My feelings won out.

I told Pat that I had high hopes for him when he came to our area last year but that now I'm disappointed in how he's embraced upper management's divisive culture of heavy-handedness coupled with fear and that he helped to promote it in the workplace and that it needs to stop if we're ever going to truly have a culture where CRM can thrive. I gave him a lot of heat and while I'd like to think I got through to him I'm not that naive.

Did I mention that change is coming?


John A Hill said…
A couple of years ago when the FAA sent home all of the NATCA liaisons that had been giving controller input on new systems and procedures should have been a good clue that they really don't want to know what is best for ATC. It really is all about control of the workforce with them and very little to do with aviation safety.
Kevin Gilmore said…
The Bush administration has allowed management to show their true colors and it hasn't been pretty.

If anybody is interested in writing a book on 'how not to manage people', the FAA would be a most excellent place to start.

I honestly feel that at the root of this is a collective deep seated inferiority complex born out of trying to make up for the fact that too many in management were weak to marginal controllers or controllers who were uncomfortable doing the job who now sit in judgment of those of us who remain at the job they fled.

While there are some among their ranks who were fine controllers that number is overshadowed by those who weren't.

I have respect for the person who admits they checked out and realized that it wasn't for them but got into management because they needed the paycheck. I'm still waiting to meet that person.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Kev, for the post.

You've saved me the time to write up my own as you said pretty much the same things I would have said!

CRM concepts presented including "risk denial" and "intentional non-compliance" are routinely practiced by FAA managers.

The "safety culture" the FAA claims to promote is all just hot air. They say one thing and do something else.

Obviously the responsibility for safety in the system lies solely on controllers' shoulders.

Safety in the system exists in spite of our managers; not because of them.
Anonymous said…
Talk about Hypocrisy on the FAA's part, I can totally relate. ZMP is only making us do this class so they can look better to their bosses. If the FAA did what was morally and ethically right, this would be a much better place to work. We could act more like a team, just like there video a year ago said they wanted to do!!

Like Tim said in the comments, the "Safety culture" is a farce, the FAA doesn't care about safety nearly as much as I do.

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