Operational Failures and Problem Solving: An Empirical Study of Incident Reporting

43 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2009

See all articles by Julia Adler-Milstein

Julia Adler-Milstein

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit; Harvard University - Health Policy

Sara J. Singer

Harvard School of Public Health

Michael W. Toffel

Harvard Business School

Date Written: August 27, 2009

Abstract

Operational failures occur in all industries with consequences that range from minor inconveniences to major catastrophes. Many organizations have implemented incident reporting systems to highlight actual and potential operational failures in order to encourage problem solving and prevent subsequent failures. Our study is among the first to develop and empirically test theory regarding which reported operational failures are likely to spur problem solving. We hypothesize that problem solving activities are especially likely to follow reported operational failures that provoke financial and legal liability risks. We also hypothesize that management commitment to problem solving, enacted through managers’ communication and engagement practices, can encourage frontline workers to conduct problem solving. We test our hypotheses in the health care context, in which the use of incident reporting systems to highlight operational failures is widespread. Using data on nearly 7,500 reported incidents from a single hospital, we find support for our hypotheses. Our findings suggest that frontline workers’ participation in problem solving is motivated by some inherent characteristics of the problems as well as by particular management practices.

Suggested Citation

Adler-Milstein, Julia and Singer, Sara J. and Toffel, Michael W., Operational Failures and Problem Solving: An Empirical Study of Incident Reporting (August 27, 2009). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 10-017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1462730 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1462730

Julia Adler-Milstein

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Harvard University - Health Policy ( email )

14 Story Street
4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sara J. Singer

Harvard School of Public Health ( email )

677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02115
United States

Michael W. Toffel (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617.384.8043 (Phone)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
274
Abstract Views
1,603
rank
125,809
PlumX Metrics