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Oct 12

Enactment Creates High Reliability Organizing

Posted by dvstralen  filed under What is HRO   0 Comment(s)    Add a Comment  comment-icon.png

How you respond to uncertainty or threat determines whether you or your organization attains resilience and adaptable to contain the situation or whether the situation decomposes into disorder and runs its course naturally.

A structural approach with principles, rules, or use of authority values obedience and conformity and looks to past experience for strength. It offers the security of what is known and what is known to work. However, the resulting structural inflexibility can lead to potentially preventable failure when circumstances overmaster the ability of the person or organization to respond. Engaging the situation (enactment, Weick) with real-time interactions (Bea) values initiative and creativity and looks toward the future for novel solutions. It offers security from the ability to match complexity of response to the complexity of the situation. Structural approaches risk self-interest or self-protection while enactment encourages collaboration toward enacting a new future. 

The choice of a structural approach vs. enactment will influence attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and values in people to create the culture of an organization. It will also influence emphasis on the type of education used, teaching (design or structural approaches) vs. learning (enactment) and whether training is directed toward skills to do the job (“Do it right”) or is directed toward conditioning to manage the unexpected (“Get it right”). Most important, the choice will decide on reasoning and epistemology, that is, does one collect facts that will guarantee the hypothesis (deductive reasoning) or strengthen evidence to support an adaptive conclusion (inductive reasoning)? How does opinion become fact and belief become knowledge (epistemology)? In structural approaches, given two opposing opinions, only one can be correct though both may be wrong. With enactment, opposing opinions may both be correct or both wrong yet both will work.    

Enactment is both taught and learned. Conditioning can produce enactment when the person experiences a threat, rather than the person reverting to fear responses and situational cognitive distortions the person will choose to engage and persevere. Enactment can produce a High Reliability Organization that has high performing individuals building a stronger organization.   

People will make sense out of the circumstances they find themselves in, what they will call their “situation.” We can educate and train them but, in the final analysis, they will make sense for themselves and use this sensemaking later to justify their actions.

This sensemaking occurs in different brain regions depending whether it is fear, uncertainty, a complex problem, or challenging problem. Uncertainty can be processed in the area of the brain where the Executive Functions lie, the prefrontal cortex, and people will analyze the situation using known principles and concepts and make decisions in an “either/or” mode (binary decision making). If uncertainty poses a threat, because of time demands, pressure to not be wrong, or effects on one’s image, the brain will involuntarily process perceptions in the more primitive reptilian brain as the emotion fear, this is the amygdala. Threat is also processed in the amygdala.

The problem we encounter is that we cannot tell someone how to process threat; it is an involuntary, reflexive response as perception moves directly to action. In the prefrontal cortex perception goes to thought and can occupy the brain and take an inordinately long time to process to action. So, there is a long period to well thought out action, in the prefrontal cortex, or immediate, action without thought, in the amygdala.

The brain has an alternative area for processing perceptions and creating action, the anterior cingulate cortex, which can modulate the amygdala (control the fear response), identify error, and make adaptive decisions (what works vs. what is right). This requires conditioning to use routinely and preferentially when enacting situations of uncertainty or threat.

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