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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
HR Society 48th Presidents Forum, UK 21 February 2008
Article Type: Resources From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 4
In February the HR Society held its 48th Presidents Forum and welcomed Professor Gillian Stamp, who led a discussion on “Trust and Judgment in Decision Making.” She will be known to some HR professionals for her work in Career Path Appreciation, building on the early work of Elliott Jacques. She founded BIOSS (Brunel Institute of Social Science), a Foundation operating all over the world (www.bioss.com).
Stamp began by talking about “judgment,” which we rely on in unfamiliar, volatile and ambiguous situations. The exercise of judgment is fraught with uncertainty, she said. It is therefore the responsibility of leaders to build and maintain a framework, a trellis that can support and cultivate confidence in the judgment of those who work to them, and crucially, confidence in their own judgment.
People all over the world and at all levels in organizations describe a sense of well-being when their capacity for judgment matches the challenges they face. They speak of feeling energized, competent and confident in their capacity to make decisions. This sense of trust in their judgment is also called being “in flow.” Stamp illustrated this with a graph of the “scale of challenge” versus the “level of capabilities” and the diagonal line from bottom left to upper right indicated being “in flow”. Below it (capability higher than challenge) we get boredom and frustration. Above it (the opposite) we get anxiety and perplexity.
Tasking, trusting and tending
The framework for enhancing confidence in judgment can be thought of as a tripod on which the leader builds from three complementary and equally vital activities: tasking, trusting and tending. Leaders manage this tension through, firstly, tasking, a process that enables the leader to define the limits for judgment and establish criteria for review by agreeing objectives and resources and agreeing a completion time.
Once tasking has established the objectives of the work, the second element of the tripod, trusting, comes into play. More specifically this can be defined as leaders sending signals about discretionary trust through shared values and purpose, and people responding by using their judgment in the light of those values. Prescriptive trust refers to how far people are (and feel they are) trusted to obey the rules that limit their discretion. Discretionary trust refers to how far people are (and feel they are) trusted to use their own initiative and judgment. People are very clear about the differences between prescriptive and discretionary trust – as one civil servant put it, “prescriptive trust is trust without space, and discretionary trust is trust with space.”
The third element, tending, is the process of maintaining the balance of trust and control. Tending keeps things working, and the organization ”in flow.” It monitors without crowding and it is vigilant in attending to both prescriptive and discretionary trust and in continuously communicating a sense of purpose and relevance that enables people to use their judgment to make adjustments in specific cases on their own initiative. Throughout history, tending has been the work of slaves, women and great leaders.
Professor Stamp went on to explain how to keep these components in balance and engendered lively discussion. A copy of her full paper may be obtained from Sheila Nutt at the HR Society by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew MayoAndrew Mayo is the President of the HR Society (www.hrsociety.co.uk)