Performing Under Uncertainty: Contextualized Engagement in Wildland Firefighting

10 Pages Posted: 14 May 2015

See all articles by Michelle Barton

Michelle Barton

Boston University - Department of Organizational Behavior; Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School

Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

Johns Hopkins University; University of Michigan - Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Timothy J. Vogus

Vanderbilt University - Organizational Behavior

Theodore W. DeWitt

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Date Written: June 2015

Abstract

In this paper, we propose that performance under uncertainty and ambiguity is enabled by a two‐pronged set of practices enacted by leaders and frontline workers. These contextualized practices fuel performance by enabling teams and organizations to both discern, interpret and make sense of important discrepancies as situations unfold (what we refer to as anomalizing), and to develop a richer understanding of a situation (what we call proactive leader sensemaking). Together, these situation‐specific practices contextualize engagement and promote capabilities to contingently tailor actions to unfolding conditions. We test our hypotheses using data gathered from a sample of wildland firefighters and find strong support for our theorizing. We also identify a set of additional group and situational conditions that provide a more nuanced understanding of factors that contribute to reliable performance under dynamic uncertainty. Together, the findings provide quantitative evidence for the micro‐foundations of effective performance in uncertain contexts.

Suggested Citation

Barton, Michelle and Sutcliffe, Kathleen M. and Vogus, Timothy J. and DeWitt, Theodore W., Performing Under Uncertainty: Contextualized Engagement in Wildland Firefighting (June 2015). Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, Vol. 23, Issue 2, pp. 74-83, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2605248 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-5973.12076

Michelle Barton (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Organizational Behavior ( email )

Boston, MA 02215
United States

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

Johns Hopkins University ( email )

University of Michigan - Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
United States

Timothy J. Vogus

Vanderbilt University - Organizational Behavior ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

Theodore W. DeWitt

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
United States

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