The Smart Managers' Secret to Navigating Disruption and Complexity

Photo: Adobe Stock / Monkey Business

Photo: Adobe Stock / Monkey Business

For managers working in this hyper-connected world, disruption and complexity are the new norms.

Yet, despite their best efforts, most find that stability and order have become fleeting and elusive. They feel baffled with nowhere to turn as established policies miss the mark and trusted metrics repeatedly fall short.

It is as if order and predictability are little more than faint memories. And certainty? Any hope of that is wishful thinking.

Or is it?

A New Way of Thinking

Most managers are resigned to the fact that business is now more unpredictable than ever. They know that the old ways are not coming back.

But a new breed of managers is navigating disruption and complexity in a whole new way. They're cultivating a new kind order and certainty. Consequently, their teams are far more effective despite constant chaos and upheaval.

For these "master navigators," their secret is a process I call "anchoring."

Anchoring: Rethinking Disruption and Complexity

The term "anchoring" is relatively new, but the practice is not. For instance, the managers I interviewed during my research have used it for some time with great results.

In the simplest terms, "anchoring" means to clarify a complex issue. It is a form of collaborative sense making that makes a complex issue more concrete. The result is that these problems gets clearer and options more obvious.

A Real World Example

Here's an example I found during my research. Sheila (a pseudonym) was a new social service manager. She told me about the difficulty she faced the first time she had to fire a staff member.

Sheila shared with me that when this happened she was initially nervous and confused. She had never conducted a termination meeting before. To make matters worse, this employee had a history of volatile behavior. Sheila was worried that the meeting would spin out of control.

But Sheila was lucky. Before the meeting she had a chance to speak with two seasoned colleagues. They shared their own experience with situations just like this. And to help keep the meeting on track, they gave her simple guidelines for what to say and how to act.

Sheila later told me that this discussion made all the difference. She now felt confident going into the meeting and let the employee go without incident.

More Than Clarity

Some may read this and think "What's the big deal? They helped her out! There's nothing special about that!!"

Perhaps. But let's look a bit closer.

While the challenge may have appeared simple, from Sheila's viewpoint, it was full of risks and unknowns. .

As Sheila saw it, the options before her were far from obvious.

The Power of Anchoring

By anchoring the situation, Sheila and her colleagues changed all that.

Together, made sense of the situation and created an effective game plan. This empowered Sheila to discard her confusion, gain confidence and take effective action.

This is the power of anchoring.

Anchoring transforms confusion and ambiguity into actionable strategy. In the process, it releases the disempowering emotions that commonly arise.

Anchoring Defies Traditional Management Norms

My first opportunity to see anchoring in action was conducting field research for my Ph.D. My research focused on why certain managers were effective despite ongoing complexity and disruption.

I saw that effective managers used an unconventional approach when engaging with their staff. They were more emotionally accessible and collaborative than managers following traditional management norms.

But the unconventional approach worked. And it worked well.

The Three Principles of the Anchoring Mindset

Questioning further, I found that the anchoring approach reflected three unconventional assumptions about management, order, and effectiveness. These three assumptions formed what I started calling "The Anchoring Mindset:"

  1. Policy and Data Are No Longer Enough. While policy and data are still important, they no longer offer the same degree of order and guidance the did during the industrial era. The world now moves too fast and is too complex. Order and certainty look very different today and require a more human approach.
  2. Anchoring Is a Manager's Top Priority.  Compliance and accountability used to be managers' top priority. But those days are gone. Ensuring quality anchoring has become managers' top priority.
  3. Anchoring Is All About Relationship. Because the world moves so fast, data and policy no longer tell the whole story. Trusting relationships are the new source of order and stability. When people feel safe and listened to, they become better able to address disruption and complexity.

Regardless of industry, managers facing disruption and complexity now see that the challenges have never been greater. Anchoring provides an important new approach for making sense of upheaval, creating a sense of stability, and maximizing team engagement.