[Webinar Recap]: The Impact of Just Culture on Human Performance

By Sean Flavin August 14th, 2020

Many organizations have historically taken a top-down approach when creating safety processes and guidelines, allowing the top brass to establish the rules while minimizing the role of the workers who are impacted the most. This mindset, according to a recent webinar hosted by Captive Resources (CRI), is being replaced by a “Just Culture” model built on empowering employees to help reduce workplace accidents and improve human performance.

The webinar, “Just Culture” in Human Performance, was led by Michael “Tung” Peterson — a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who served as a Weapons Systems Officer, Base Executive Officer and Assistant Professor at the Air Force Academy, and graduated from the elite TOPGUN program. Today, Peterson serves as Director of Products, Services and Standards for Check-6 Inc. — a consultancy that leverages coaches’ military experience to help improve human performance.

In the webinar, Peterson explained the basics of human performance, how a Just Culture can improve human performance and how to know if your culture is just. To help you understand the value a Just Culture could bring to your organization, here’s a recap of his presentation.

What is Human Performance?

Understanding the Just Culture model and how it impacts the way we work, according to Peterson, starts with understanding the basics of human performance. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are five principles of human performance:

  • People are fallible, and even the best people make mistakes.
  • Error-likely situations are predictable, manageable and preventable.
  • Individual behavior is influenced by organizational processes and values.
  • People achieve high levels of performance because of the encouragement and reinforcement received from leaders, peers and subordinates.
  • Events can be avoided by understanding why mistakes occur and applying lessons from past events.

These principles, however, have not always been the rule. In recent years, there has been a trend away from the legacy view organizations took on human performance to a new, emergent view.

Legacy View

The legacy view of human performance takes a top-down approach where organizations limit employee control and create systems and processes designed to constrain the negative actions of individuals. Essentially, the legacy view frames individuals as problems that need to be controlled. It’s a reactive approach that measures success based on an absence of negative results, rather than positive indicators.

Emergent View

The emergent view sees people as part of the solution and leverages workers’ knowledge and expertise to optimize human performance. This newer view takes a bottom-up approach to empower and engage employees by asking them what they need to solve specific problems and improve overall performance. As the more proactive approach, the emergent view measures performance by precision, positive capacity and resilience.

What is a Just Culture?

Embracing a Just Culture requires organizations to move toward the more emergent view. Simply put, a Just Culture is “an environment where everyone feels safe, encouraged and empowered to discuss quality and safety issues.”

According to Peterson, there are three essential elements to the Just Culture model:

No. 1: Reporting

In a Just Culture, the goal of reporting is to identify systemic weaknesses and mitigate or eliminate errors before they happen. Ultimately, reporting should be about addressing systemic issues, rather than looking at individual incidents.

To achieve the goals of reporting in a Just Culture, organizations need to foster an environment where individuals feel safe to speak up which requires organizations to recognize three truths:

  • Humans and systems are fallible.
  • Adverse events are often caused by multiple factors.
  • Systems and processes play an important role in increasing the likelihood of human errors.

No. 2: Learning

Organizations that embrace a Just Culture are committed to identifying and examining their weaknesses and are just as willing to expose their weaknesses as they are to display their strengths.

"What [you] don't do well should be a hell of a lot more interesting to leadership than what [you] do well,” said Peterson. “Because that’s where you’re going to find those areas for improvement.”

Learning in a Just Culture requires a shared mindset that there’s more value in learning from mistakes than focusing on assigning blame.

No. 3: Leadership Response

When human errors do inevitably happen, a Just Culture means that an organization can trust that its leadership will respond fairly and consistently. In a Just Culture, according to Peterson, leaders are accountable for developing and maintaining an environment that feels psychologically safe. In the end, this creates a culture where “each individual feels accountable for their actions, but will not be blamed for system faults in their work environment that are beyond their control.”

Does my Organization Have a Just Culture?

While there’s a lot that goes into a Just Culture, Peterson offered a few basic questions based on the elements above to help you determine where your organization currently stands.


  • How would you rate your organization’s reporting?
  • Does your organization operate more on psychological fear or psychological safety?
  • How effective is your reporting in preemptively identifying and addressing systemic weakness?


  • Is learning the primary goal of accident investigations?
  • Is the knowledge gained used to address systemic weaknesses?
  • Do you have a formal process to learn from both success and failure?

Leadership Responses

  • How does your leadership respond to human error and failure?
  • Is that response fair and just?
  • Does the way your leaders respond to human error and failure make the organization better? If so, how?

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of CRI’s Risk Control Webinar Series – weekly installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect CRI’s positions on any of the above topics.

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