Five Mental Anchors that Impede Your Strategic Initiative

anchor LSIMental anchors are reference points that people use in decision making. As an example, people tend to be loss avoiders when making decisions because they are anchoring to the things they already have.

Anchoring to the past or present allows the status quo to perpetuate. Strategic initiatives, by definition, are programs that intend to be transformative. Consider then, the challenge of cultural change is this:  how do we change the reference points? How might we loosen up the anchors to the present and strengthen the anchors of the future?

Here are strategic initiative leadership five actions you can take:

Identify those beliefs that have become distorted. Here is an example: IBM’s Lew Gerstner faced a challenge with a corporate value called “respect for the individual.” When originally formulated by IBM’s founder (Thomas Watson), the idea of respect for the individual was simply that: show respect to others, and expect it in return. Over time this worthy idea devolved to create a culture of entitlement, with no accountability. Your organization likely has distorted beliefs that take away the focus on strategic imperatives. What are they?

Be sensitive to habits and routines. Every established organization has them. Sometimes they are quite useful, but in too-many cases, they are inertia that blocks progress.

Frame decisions as “carriers of future value.” Decisions are made in the present, but affect the future. Stated differently, a decision to perpetuate the status quo has a different value than a decision to invest. Since all resources become obsolete, a decision to carry on with the status quo may actually have negative value.

Be open minded. Imagine the decisions, thoughts, and feelings of others. In particular, I find it helpful to imagine a “next generation” in the organization, and how they would view the significance of my strategic initiative.

Be careful about announcing anchors for schedule and benefits. People want dates, budgets, and results. Whatever they first hear will become an anchor and set an expectation. Obviously, think it through and consider the presence of risks in the program. Too, be wary of accepting due dates and expectations; analyze their feasibility and if you don’t agree, make it part of your issues management approach.

What are some other anchors?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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