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The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster was a preventable disaster that NASA tried to cover up by calling it a mysterious accident. However, two men had the courage to bring the real true story to the eyes of the public and it is to Richard Cook and Roger Boisjoly to whom we are thankful. Many lessons can be learned from this disaster to help prevent further disasters and to improve on organizations ethics.
One of the many key topics behind the Challenger disaster is the organizational culture. One of the aspects of an organizational culture is the observable culture of an organization that is what one sees and hears when walking around an organization. There are four parts to the observable culture, stories, heroes, rites and rituals and symbols. The first one is stories, which is tales told among an organizationís members. In the Challenger Space Shuttle incident there were mainly four organizations thrown together to form one, Morton Thiokol, Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center and NASA Headquarters. All of these organizations had the same type of stories to be told. At Morton Thiokol, they talked about their product and their big deal, which they received from NASA. At NASA, itís members retold stories of the previous space missions and being the first people to have landed on the moon.
Second are their heroes. At Morton Thiokol, their heroes might have been the founders of the organization or itís top executives like Charles Locke or Jerry Mason. At NASA, their heroes might have been Neil Armstrong, staff or any members of the organization. All of these people that were chosen to be heroes set the standards for that organization and conducted themselves for others to follow.
Third are the rites and rituals those members of an organization conduct. Since both of these organizations work together to attain the same goal, a ritual for the organization is the celebration after each successful launch and landing of a space shuttle. A rite or ritual shows a since of group unity and friendship among the organizationís members.
Finally there are symbols that the organization uses, which has may carry a special meaning through its communication. Symbols in these organizations are very important because with these organizations line of work, symbols could mean the difference between life and death. For example, in the space shuttle there are different symbols on their controls. If an emergency light goes on they must know these symbols in order to fix the problem or abort the shuttle.
All of these four aspects are centered on the organizations core culture. An organizations core culture is the beliefs about the right ways to behave. When Thiokol and NASA first started to plan for Challengerís mission, it was part of their core culture, which ultimately caused the Challenger disaster. To an observer at both of these organizations dealing with the Challenger mission was that everything was perfect and right on schedule. The top executives in these organizations told their employees to be quite and act as if everything was fine. They did this so that the media and the people of the United States would believe and have great admiration for NASA. The Challenger was different then the previous missions because it was the first time a citizen would be going into outer space. At this time in these organizations time, it was essential to their futures to boost Americans opinion of the space program. The executives of these organizations knew how important this mission was to their success and pushed for the mission to happen and for its employees to convince the people of the programís growth and success.
In the direction in organizational culture, worker empowerment was highly stressed although top management did not listen. This was also very important in trying to prevent the Challenger disaster. Both Thiokol and NASA asked for employees opinion on whether the launch should be a go or were their problems that may arise. When the engineers gave their opinion that I was to dangerous for launch, the top executives refused to listen to them and voted to launch asking only for the top executives to vote. In Challengerís case, the engineers were the people who knew whether or not it would be safe for launch. The employees of these organizations had the expertise on the construction of the shuttle; not itís top executives. With this matter, the executives should have listened to the experts, instead of making their decision based on their reputation if they were to cancel the launch. The worker empowerment in these organization is well carried out by itís employees, however, itís top executives do not hold their part of the bargain and that is one of the many problems that led to the Challenger disaster.
Another problem with these organizations culture is the workplace ethics. At the beginning of NASA, they stressed the importance of ethics and that is what transformed NASA in to a successful organization. NASA was concerned for its astronauts and the safety of the members of the organization and the world. When the American public lost interest in the space program, NASA and Thiokolís top executives drifted away from safety which eventually led to the down fall of the Challenger. Even during the Challenger dayís, itís employees followed the organizations ethic codes, except for their top executives. They were the people who stressed ethic, but taught silence to their employees. An organization can not function when its top executives are not making ethical decision and that is what happened to Thiokol and NASA.
Another key problem with Thiokol and NASA was their decision-making. Thiokol and NASA made the worst decisions in the space programs history, one where human lives were lost. The reason that it was a bad organizational decision was that the information known to the organization was sufficient enough to have cancelled the launch, in addition the organizations knew of the technical problem years before the Challenger launch. The organizations knew of the problem at the beginning, however, they went about fixing the problem in the wrong way. The organizations decided that it would be best for the organizations if they tried to fix the problem while continuing with the launches. In this case, the organization went about fixing the problem in a systematic approach. The organizations formed a task force and they approached the problem in a rational and analytical fashion. The problem was not in the task force but in the top levels of the organization. In the problem solving process there are five steps, find and define the problem, which they did. Second is to generate and evaluate alternative solutions, which they were doing. However, while they were finding solutions and alternatives, they were still continuing to use the shuttle with itís problem with the O-rings. This was a bad managerial decision made by the organizations top executives. These executives knew the risks that they were challenging every time another shuttle took off. Each time they lowered their expectations of the weather and conditions, this eventually led to the disaster. Third is to choose a preferred solution and conduct the ethics double check. This step was never reached because they never found a solution to the problem before the disaster. The fourth and fifth step, which is to implement the solution and evaluate the results, was not achieved until after the disaster.
The decision on whether to launch or not was an escalating commitment. This is the tendency to continue to pursue a course of action, even though it is not working. This was very reflective of the executives decision to launch. All of the previous missions were a success, but from a technical standpoint each mission was a more and more devastating disaster. Since every trip was a success in that there was not a disaster, Thiokol and NASA lowered their conditions for launch, which increased the chance of disaster. This eventually over time led to the Challenger disaster.
The decision to launch was a consultative decision. The executives of Thiokol and NASA sought the expert opinion from the engineers, however the top executives made the final decision. Although among the top executives it was a group decision done by the form of voting.
The decision to launch could have been better executed if they followed the ten ways to increase creativity. First, is to look for more than one right answer or best way. Second, is to avoid being too logical; let your thinking roam. Third, to challenge rules, ask why, donít settle for the status quo. Fourth, ask what if questions. Fifth, let ambiguity help you and others see things di
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