Skyguide, the Swiss air navigation service provider, is a special organisation in many respects.

Firstly, there is its raison d’être: safety and efficiency of air traffic. The quality of services is measured by the non-occurrence of problems, problems with potentially fatal consequences.

Secondly, it is an expert organisation. The specialist knowledge is very diversified and spread over the entire structure. And since expertise is paramount for this type of activity, responsibilities are widely distributed as well.

Thirdly, skyguide is active in an industry which is basically not on the market. The public service part of air navigation services is a sovereign function that is formally delegated by a state. On the one hand, this protects the respective organisation, but on the other hand it prevents it from benefiting from the dynamics of competition. A provider like skyguide must constantly find the motivation to reinvent itself.

And finally, the company went through several severe crises at the beginning of the century. It was severely affected on a technical, operational, financial and, above all, emotional level. The self-esteem of the company and the self-confidence of the individual employees were at an absolute low point.


From difficult times to an inspiring organisational culture

In this difficult situation, skyguide decided to develop a new self-understanding as a High Reliability Organisation (HRO). HRO is a straightforward concept, people-centred and practice-oriented. Skyguide has adapted and adopted a number of basic principles that are characteristic of an HRO:

  • Focus on problems and malfunctions
  • Reject simplistic interpretations
  • Place operating workflows centre-stage
  • Strive for resilience
  • Respect specialist expertise

Skyguide thus strives to act appropriately in case of an unexpected event and to deal constructively with possible underlying errors. Of course, no organisation always does everything right. But HROs have the ability and the will to continuously improve.

Over the years, this model has proven to be an inspiration to other companies, especially those that operate in a complex environment and where people make the difference (and what organisation can’t claim that?!).

I had the privilege of accompanying skyguide through this cultural transformation and am proud that the company’s leadership and organisational culture serve as a case study in the new edition of the series Faszination Leadership (order form for print version in German).